Death sentence heightens Canada-China tensions

Arturo Kim
January 18, 2019

Tensions continue to rise between the two countries, after a Chinese court sentenced Robert Schellenberg to death in a drug case Monday.

The ruling has drawn global attention as it is being linked with China's relentless pressure on Canadian authorities to release Ms.Meng, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei.

Schellenberg, 36, was arrested in 2014 and was later sentenced to a 15-year prison term for smuggling methamphetamine.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, believed to be 36, was arrested in 2014 and accused of planning to smuggle nearly 227kg of methamphetamine into China.

However, the court deemed the quantum of punishment for Schellenberg was way too lenient given the grave nature of his crime and ordered a retrial of the case.

The Chinese press began publicizing Schellenberg's case after Canada detained the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei on December 1 at the request of the United States.

Two other Chinese men were sentenced in the case - one was given life imprisonment, while another was handed a suspended death sentence.

Further escalating the diplomatic rift between Ottawa and Beijing, a Chinese spokesperson said earlier on Monday that Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat taken into custody the day after Meng's arrest, was not eligible for diplomatic immunity as Trudeau has maintained.

If Schellenberg loses on appeal, the death sentence will be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court, which overturns sentences only about 10 per cent of the time, he said.

Last week, Trudeau accused China of "arbitrarily and unfairly" detaining former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor, who were rounded up nine days after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. The foreign minister said she spoke with Mr. Schellenberg's father in what she described as "a very emotional conversation for him".

However, some analysts have argued that both the timing, and the publicity given to Schellenberg's retrial has been unusual.

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A lawyer for Schellenberg, Zhang Dongshuo, told Reuters his client would probably appeal against the death sentence. He told The Associated Press that "it's hard not to see a link" between the case and Canada's arrest of Meng.

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China has since detained two Canadian nationals, accusing them of endangering national security.

Last month, Canada arrested an official of China's Huawei telecoms giant.

Taking Canada to task for issuing an updated travel advisory warning its citizens about the risk of arbitrary enforcement of laws in China, Hua said that Canada should instead remind its people to not engage in drug smuggling there.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since accused China of arbitrarily applying the death penalty.

Schellenberg's lawyer said on Monday he would appeal.

Drug smuggling is routinely punished severely in China.

The plea from Ottawa came as the rift with China deepened yet again in a worsening diplomatic dispute following the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive accused in the USA of fraud related to violations of sanctions against Iran. On Thursday the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a special meeting in Ottawa to discuss the possibility of calling Canada's ambassador to China John McCallum to testify on the current state of China-Canada relations.

Describing the case as "highly politicized", the human rights group Amnesty International urged that Schellenberg's sentence be revoked.

"So much of the world is speaking with one voice on this matter and I think that is certainly a good start".

"Personally, I don't see a connection between these cases and Meng Wanzhou", he said.

The case has been condemned by Western legal experts and Schellenberg's relatives, who say that China is using Schellenberg as a bargaining chip in its efforts to free a top technology executive detained in Canada.

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