Toronto couple finds Confederate flag in Airbnb rental, company admits it ‘mishandled’ the situation

A Toronto couple is looking to raise awareness and seek accountability after they found a Confederate flag hanging inside their booked Airbnb rental.

Patricia Joong and Justin Ford are still processing the incident which took place near Belleville, Ont. on March 4.

“It just made us sort of sick to our stomachs, that it was in our Airbnb, that we would be sleeping with that, a symbol of hate,” Joong told CTV News Toronto.

The flag is a symbol associated with slavery, anti-Black racism, and white supremacy.

“[We were] feeling a little bit uncomfortable, more uncomfortable, and actually thinking, possibly, that our safety could be compromised,” said Ford.

Shocked and hurt, the couple said they left within 30 minutes of arriving and drove home.

Joong and Ford said they called the company and were told by a representative to contact the host to request a refund — which they said also made them uncomfortable.

Moreover, Airbnb said it could not control a host’s “decor.”

“We were appalled by that response because we didn’t understand how you could equate a Confederate flag to ‘decor’ at an Airbnb,” Joong said.

When CTV News Toronto contacted Airbnb, we were directed to its community policy, which states that the business doesn’t allow “hateful, discriminatory or offensive images, symbols or objects” in properties listed on their platform.

“Airbnb does not tolerate discrimination and our policies ban hateful and discriminatory objects — which specifically includes the Confederate flag,” said a spokesperson in a statement.

“We deeply apologize to Ms. Joong and Mr. Ford that our community support team member appears to have mishandled this case and gave them an incorrect account of our policy — we never want our guests to have this type of experience, especially when they’ve brought us such a serious claim.”

Joong and Ford said since they called the company about the flag on the night they arrived at the rental, they both exchanged messages with Airbnb about their concerns — but no one has called to followed up.

Meanwhile, the couple has set up an online petition, saying ‘Airbnb guests have the right to feel welcome and safe in their accommodations’. 

“We pressed on this, ‘Someone would call you tomorrow’, and we haven’t heard from someone and this has been almost a month,” said Ford.

“We want people to understand that, you know, that this could happen, and that Airbnb will do nothing and the listing will stay active,” added Joong.

The host replied online to the couple and apologized for making them feel uncomfortable and issued a refund.

Airbnb tells CTV News Toronto it has now suspended the listing indefinitely as it investigates the incident further. 

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