Disabled Canadian expat Mitch St Pierre, co-owner of the Lotus Lodge hotel in Siem Reap, is also a film producer, and an activist for accessible tourism for disabled and elderly folk..
He’s well known on Temple Town’s nightlife circuit, but his clubbing came to a grinding halt on March 4 when he was denied entry to the trendy Hip Hop Club because he was wheelchair bound.
He was told that he couldn’t enter the club because it was crowded and his disability rendered him at risk if fights or fire broke out.
Mitch, 29, who worked for a Canadian Member of Parliament in Ottawa before moving to Cambodia last year and buying the hotel two months ago with business partner Scot Sanderson, told Siem Reap Insider, “I happen to use a wheelchair which has not stopped me from travelling to over 40 countries, and making the move to this beautiful country.
“The other night I attempted to go into Hip Hop Night Club and was refused entry because I have a wheelchair. Of all places around the world, I never expected to be discriminated against because of being in a wheelchair.
“It’s a fact that Cambodia is the most disabled country in the world. People with disabilities should not be treated this way. I know this is not Canada, but this action is intolerable. How can we see progression if people are acting in this manner?
He added, “That I was not allowed in is just horrendous. This really, really aggravates me and I will not stop until this issue is dealt with.”
But Hip Hop Club owner Ly Kong Sroun said the incident was unfortunate, and was undertaken to conform with Siem Reap Authority edicts.
He said that after hearing about Mitch’s complaint he called a meeting of all staff to ascertain exactly what happened and if the situation could have been better handled.
He said, “I learnt that the security informed the manager via Icom about the situation, and that we refused entry because we were worried about his security in the club because it was very busy, crowded and dark.
“We were really worried that he could get injured or be unable to move when inside the club.
Sometimes problems happen that we don’t expect. We worried that we could not give him the best care, and that any problem would come back to us.
“Please ask him to calm down, and to please listen to our policy. We’re not lawbreakers. I’m so happy that he likes our club, but we would like to say sorry for disappointing him.
“I know he was upset with what we did. But it doesn’t mean that we discriminated against a disabled person. We have never discriminated about the kind of customer we admit, but we have to respect the authority’s orders for night clubs in Siem Reap.”
Tep Bun Chhay, Siem Reap District Governor confirmed that the Siem Reap Authority doesn’t allow disabled people to enter clubs, which could be deemed dangerous.
He added, “It’s depends on the owner whether a disabled person is allowed to enter the club or not.
“And if they barred him because they were afraid that some problems might happen in the club such as fighting, or something else that will affect the guy, then that shows good intention from the owners.”
But Mitch St Pierre, who spoke in Mexico last year about accessible tourism and will speak on the same topic in India this September, said that as a disabled person he should be given the right to determine whether a club is risky or dangerous for him or not.
“I think it’s going backwards. The government should be standing up for people who are in this situation. People should have the freedom to be able to do what they want – it’s my decision. If I know a club is crowded and dangerous, I leave. I went to a club in Venezuela that was super crowded. I knew it was dangerous for me, and I left.”
He added that because of his medical condition he has brittle bones and is well aware of dangers he faces daily.
“Even being in Cambodia is dangerous for me,” he said, adding that travelling around Siem Reap streets is fraught with risk because if his wheelchair tips over in one of the many potholes and ruts he might possibly have to be medivacced out of the country.
Meanwhile, March has been a busy month for Mitch. The film he produced was televised nationally in Canada on March 9 and will soon debut in the US.
“It’s a travel show pilot,” he said. “It’s an exaggerated adventure story, in search of Cambodia’s legendary bamboo train.”