Canadian cancels trip to Brunei for fear of safety amid anti-gay stoning laws
A Canadian traveller was eventually refunded for a flight to Brunei after he learned new Islamic criminal laws in the small Southeast Asian nation permit stoning offenders to death for gay sex and adultery.
Adrien Poudrier was watching the news on Saturday when he learned that Sharia laws introduced five years ago had now come into effect. As a member of the LGBT community who has a number of tattoos on his body featuring gay iconography including the rainbow pride flag, he was unsettled by what he learned.
“I was a little bit shocked and scared, frankly, of what I should do and what steps I can take to ensure my safety,” he said in an interview with CTV News Channel from Incheon, South Korea on Wednesday.
When he tried to get his money back for his flight to Brunei, his China-based travel agency Trip.com initially told him their policy didn’t allow them to grant a refund.
Despite Poudrier repeatedly saying he feared for his life, several Trip.com employees and managers told him the ultimate decision would come down to the “compassion of the person working that day,” he said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
One of the agency managers told him that they had contacted the state-owned Royal Brunei Airlines to ask for guidance on how to deal with gay passengers, which made Poudrier even more uneasy.
“I was really confused as to why she would do that,” he told CTV News channel. “This is an airline that is 100 per cent owned by the Brunei government.” During his three-day ordeal, he was told that if he wanted a refund she would have to give his name and passport information to the airline.
But after CTVNews.ca repeatedly questioned several Trip.com employees early Wednesday, Poudrier was granted a refund by the travel agency.
When reached by CTVNews.ca over the phone, Wendy Min, spokesperson for Chinese travel company CTrip – of which Trip.com is a subsidiary – said she felt “incredibly sorry that we put Adrien through that.”
“[Trip.com] will bear and cover the costs for the refund in this particular case,” she said, explaining the airline would not provide a full refund because it had “non-refundable nor changeable policies.”
“Because of such concern from Adrien, we’re not going to say, ‘you sort it out,’” she said. She did acknowledge the “flaws” and headaches Adrien experienced.
Despite Brunei’s new laws, Min said the company would continue booking trips to and from the country and work with Royal Brunei Airlines. But during a phone call with CTVNews.ca, Poudrier said this stance doesn’t go far enough.
“If there was a mechanical problem on the airplane, it’s not going to take off. But [Trip.com] was ready and willing to send me there with a great chance I’m going to experience troubles,” he said. “Businesses should take accountability for their passengers.”
Min would not disclose if other LGBTQ passengers had asked for a refund regarding Brunei-related trips. But she added LGBTQ customers in similar situations could contact her through email.
GLOBAL AFFAIRS CANADA WARNS LGBTQ TRAVELLERS OF THE RISKS
While the Canadian government’s risk level for travellers to Brunei remains normal, the Global Affairs Canada website suggests LGBTQ2 travellers “carefully consider the risks” of travelling there in light of the laws.
The Bruneian laws, which also include punishing thieves by cutting off their hands, have been condemned this week by around the world. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the new penal code “draconian” in a statement on Monday.
“I appeal to the Government to stop the entry into force of this draconian new penal code, which would mark a serious setback for human rights protections for the people of Brunei if implemented,” she said.
“Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery,” he wrote.