Chinese Court Upholds Death Penalty For Canadian Charged With Drug Trafficking

Canada once accused Beijing of arbitrarily applying the death sentence.
August 10, 2021, 7:30am
Schellenberg drug trafficking death panelty
A photo released by the Intermediate Peoples‘ Court of Dalian shows Robert Lloyd Schellenberg during his retrial in January 2019. Photo: Intermediate Peoples‘ Court of Dalian / AFP

A Chinese court has upheld the death sentence of a Canadian citizen who was accused of trafficking more than 200 kilograms of methamphetamine from China to Australia. 

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was born in 1982, was one of several Canadians facing criminal charges in China amid tense relations between Beijing and Ottawa. Originally sentenced to prison in 2018, he was retried and handed a death penalty a month after Canada’s arrest of a Huawei executive escalated tensions between the governments.

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China has one the world’s toughest drug control laws and death penalties for smugglers are not unheard of. But Canadian politicians have criticized the punishment as politically charged, citing the unusual circumstances of the retrial and the heavy sentence.

Schellenberg was detained in northeastern China in 2014 for drug smuggling. He was first sentenced to 15 years in prison in November 2018. A few days later, Canadian authorities detained Huawei’s chief financial executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver airport at the request of the U.S. government.

Beijing immediately warned Canada of “dire consequences” if Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, was not released, without providing specifics.

Later that month, a Chinese court ordered a retrial of Schellenberg, which led to a death penalty in January 2019. 

At the time, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned China for “arbitrarily” applying the death penalty, calling Schellenberg’s situation “horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking.”

China’s Foreign Ministry rejected the accusations of foul play, citing the severity of the drug-related offenses. 

In a Tuesday statement, the Higher People's Court of Liaoning Province said it had rejected Schellenberg’s appeal. “[We] think the facts established in the first trial were clear,” the statement says. “The evidence was solid and sufficient. The verdict was accurate. The sentence was appropriate.”

Shortly after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities detained two other Canadians: former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor. They were charged with espionage in 2020. Spavor’s verdict is due this week, according to Reuters.

Meng has been fighting her extradition to the U.S. at a Canadian court for the past two and a half years. The extradition case is now in its final stage of hearings.