Jason Withrow is having a rough start to Black History Month.
He went out for dinner January 26, at a restaurant on Sainte-Anne Street in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue with a friend. As Withrow left to get to his car, he walked past police, who were in the area. Soon after he drove off, Withrow alleges they pulled him over.
When he told the officer that he doesn’t speak French, both officers tried to speak some English, but continued mostly in French.
“I remember he said drugs, ‘Do you have any drugs or weapons in the car?'”
Withrow said no. Shortly after, he says they pulled him from the car.
Withrow protested, but they walked away. After a while they returned.
“They have a machine, some black box, ” Withrow explains. “He said, ‘Ah….take this.’ I said, I don’t understand what you mean!”
According to Withdrow, the officers read something to him, took the handcuffs off and towed his car. Then they called him a cab but he didn’t have enough cash on him, so he says they left him in the cold to find his way home to Lachine.
“Basically he was charged with refusing to take a breathalyzer test,” explains Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.
Niemi says there are two problems here: first, because of language issues, the officer believed Withrow refused a breathalyzer test. But he says police need to explain why Withrow was tailed and pulled over in the first place.
“This is a classic example of driving while black,” Niemi tells Global News, “and basically finding something to stick it to the black driver.”
Niemi says Mayor Valerie Plante’s new administration has to take urgent action against racial profiling.
“Last year there was a consultation by the city on racial profiling. We don’t know what has happened to those recommendations.”
The city says it is going through the recommendations and will soon have a response. Global News contacted Montreal police for comment, but was unsuccessful.
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For now, Withrow’s car has been impounded for 30 days, and his driver’s license suspended for 90. He will have a criminal record because of the charge. Also, he’s a landed immigrant from the U.S., so it could affect his application for citizenship.
He thinks he may have to fight it in court.
“I have to pay for a lawyer, I have to find a lawyer first. It’s just — don’t know what I’m going to do,” Withrow says. “I’m going to be honest with you — I’m lost!”