John Michael Bennett was determined to get to Canada this week, even if it meant paddling across the St. Croix River on an air mattress he bought at Wal-Mart.

The voyage was successful, but his visit didn’t go as planned after he made landfall.

The 25-year-old Calais man was arrested Wednesday after police and border patrol officials found him walking down a road in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, boots in hand and his clothes dripping water. Canadian officials say Bennett had been turned away at an official border station but was intent on crossing, saying he wanted to protect his pregnant fiancée from a violent ex-boyfriend. So he managed to make it into the country by paddling an air mattress across the river, they said.

“Although this was somewhat comedic in terms of how he came across, the larger message needed to be sent out to the public on both sides of the border that the penalties will be significant no matter what the circumstances,” said Peter Thorn, a lawyer representing the federal Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Bennett’s attempts to get to Canada began Wednesday afternoon when he tried to walk across the bridge from Calais to St. Stephen. He was turned away because of a pending criminal mischief charge in Calais, Thorn said.

Once back in the United States, Bennett headed to Wal-Mart, where he bought an inflatable air mattress and a paddle. He inflated the mattress on the riverbank, climbed on and started paddling across the river, which is roughly 1,000 to 2,000 feet wide in the vicinity where he crossed. A Canadian resident witnessed the voyage and called police. Bennett was found walking on Ledge Road in St. Stephen and was taken into custody.


“He readily admitted that he came across. He said he felt his fiancée may be in danger from a violent ex-boyfriend and he thought it was the proper thing to do,” Thorn said.

On Thursday, Bennett appeared in court and pleaded guilty to crossing into Canada illegally. He was sentenced to two months in jail and will be deported to the United States at the end of his sentence, Thorn said. Thorn, who asked for a longer sentence, said Bennett told the court that he thought being deported would be punishment enough.

During the sentencing, Thorn said, the judge noted that Bennett intended to come to Canada “come hell or high water.”

Bennett, who has no fixed address but has a post office box in Calais, is a suspect in a criminal mischief case from June, said Sgt. William White of the Calais Police Department. Bennett is accused of breaking a television in a home where he did not live. At the time, he told police he was staying in Canada with his girlfriend.

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