Black man says Montreal police racially profiled him in wrongful arrest

A new Montrealer says his new city needs to do something about the racial profiling of black men like himself, following an incident with Montreal police that a legal expert in race relations calls a textbook example of "driving while black."

"I was scared, I felt very vulnerable," Jason Withrow recalled. "I felt like I wasn't human almost, I felt like I was somewhat of an animal, like I wasn't supposed to be there—like they were trying to trap me."

The 31-year-old man says he walked past some police officers while leaving a restaurant in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue on Jan. 26. Not long after, he says the same officers pulled him over.

Withrow—originally from North Carolina—says he told the police his French was poor, but the officers continued to speak in French, with occasional English.

He claims he was asked if there was any alcohol or drugs in the car, and he said he answered no, and that he doesn't even drink.

The officers proceeded to pull him from his Audi, handcuff him, and place him in the back of their squad car, Withrow said.

He said an officer mentioned blowing into a "machine" but he Withrow told reporters it was never said expressly to him he needs to blow into a breathalyzer.

He was arrested and charged with refusing to perform a blood-alcohol test, a criminal offence.

His car was impounded for 30 days and his license was suspended for 90 days. Withrow says officers called him a cab, which he had no cash to pay for.

He claims officers were laughing among themselves as he was walking to the cab.

Without money to pay for the taxi, and his phone having died, he says he was left stranded by the police and had to make his own way back to his home in Lachine.

It took hours.

Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) Executive Director Fo Niemi called the incident a clear case of someone punished for merely driving while being black.

He says CRARR would help Withrow with preparing a criminal defence and applying to get his suspended license back.

Niemi says new mayor Valerie Plante and her administration need to address racial profiling in Montreal, noting he has still not seen any findings from a consultation on racial profiling the city held last year.

Montreal police were unable to comment on Sunday on the incident.