With a guilty verdict delivered last week against Peter Watts, a Canadian writer, adds something unexpected and dangerous to any journey out of the United States, and particularly so to exiting the country by car.
First, US border guards now do exit searches — which is to say that your car might be searched on the way out of the United States. I have no idea why the United States is worried about you transporting things out of their country and into Canada — traditionally, that would be Canada’s problem — nor do I have the first clue regarding what they might be looking for. But they’re looking for something. Maybe trouble.
Second, while they are supposed to inform you that they are searching your vehicle, apparently they did not in this case. You might suddenly find border guards going through your things.
Third, if you dare to ask questions about this, you might get punched in the face. That certainly happened to Mr. Watts.
Finally, if, after getting punched in the face, you take to long to obey a border guard’s instructions, you can be convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison for two years. For simply failing to obey an instruction quickly enough.
The most amazing part is a quote from a juror, taken from the Times-Herald:
As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury’s task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts “obstructed/resisted” the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He’s not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalated the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.
And from another juror:
He was found guilty of obstructing/resisting, and that was due to the time that transpired between him being ordered to do something and him actually complying with the order. We were forced to decide what was a reasonable amount of time for him to comply with an order. Mr. Watts, in my opinion, was treated unfairly by Customs and Border Protection. But, unfortunately, they were not on trial.
In other words, beware of border crossings.