Sunday, March 21, 2010

More on Watts: the buried lede

There is more to the plight of Peter Watts (a Canadian citizen who has just been found guilty of "obstruction" in Michigan for the crime of asking a US border thug a question) than immediately meets the eye.

As I noted in my earlier post, the Michigan prosecutor is seeking to extend the possible sentence he will receive. She is looking into having Watts declared an "habitual offender" on the basis of an alleged conviction in 1991. In Canada.

Today Watts enlarges a little on that:

There’s been a lot of recent murmling, both here and abroad, about my so-called “Criminal record”, my “previous Felony Conviction” in Canada, and my potential “habitual offender” status. I don’t want to go into too much detail because evidently — and contrary to my initial understanding — this is still an active issue. But I can state this much unequivocally: I do not have a criminal record in Canada. I have never been convicted of anything in Canada; those of you who want to find evidence to the contrary, knock yourselves out and good luck. These latest allegations have their roots in a 1991 incident so dick-ass that the official records themselves have long since been destroyed. It was invoked by the Prosecution very early in the proceedings (as an intimidation tactic, I suspect), probably due to an interjurisdictional misunderstanding (i.e., the same legal term has a different meaning in Canada than it does in the US). [emphasis added]

Take a good look at the bolded bit. Nearly two decades ago, Watts had a minor incident with the police that did not lead to a conviction, and the official records were destroyed.

How did a prosecutor in Port Huron, Michigan, learn about this, then?

I soon recalled another case, involving a friend of mine, Tom Juravich. This time it was a matter of an American citizen being denied entry into Canada. Twenty-six years earlier, Tom had been arrested for taking part in a non-violent sit-in. As in Watts' case, no criminal record ensued: charges, in fact, were dropped the day after his arrest. Once again, official records had been destroyed, which made it very difficult, in fact, for Tom to prove he had no criminal record. Finally, he obtained a document and entered the country:

This morning at 11:00 am (Friday,August 3) I entered the Canadian Border Services office at Cornwall and am delighted to report that I was allowed back into Canada and received my work permit to teach at Carleton University. I presented a court document indicating that all charges had been dropped against me (which turned out very difficult to obtain because my official court records were no longer available 26 years later).My file on both sides of the border now indicates I have been "rehabilitated" – from being innocent!

This is profoundly disturbing. Sundry small-time officials appear to have their mitts all over ancient arrest records of people in another country, defective records that carry no follow-up information.

As noted, Tom did get to teach at Carleton, after being "rehabilitated," a word that has a certain ring to it. Watts, however, is facing three years in jail for asking a goon who had just beaten him, "What's the problem?" His alleged "habitual offender" status is utterly bogus, but may net him another year in jail on top of the two he faced originally for "obstruction." Probably the podunk prosecutor didn't even know the outcome of the 1991 events--and likely she didn't care one way or the other.

But the wider questions are these: why are two governments sharing defective information with each other that poses a clear and present danger to innocent citizens? How much other unverified information, about you, about me, is sitting in shared databases at the moment, ready to be activated and used against us without warning by small-time officials with attitude? What recourse do ordinary folks have, other than getting expensive searches done on our own dime when we get into a jam?

Welcome to the wonderful world of deep integration. Be very afraid.

No comments: