Canada updated its travel advisory to China on Monday evening, warning Canadians to “exercise a high degree of caution” in the country “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
The newly worded Canadian advisory is in response to the case of Robert Schellenberg, who was convicted of drug smuggling and on Monday sentenced to death by the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court, in the northeastern province of Liaoning. It’s not clear when that will occur.
On Tuesday, China fired back, issuing its own travel advisory that mirrored the language of the Canadians.
China warned citizens to "fully evaluate risks" when traveling there, accusing Canada of enacting an "arbitrary detention" of a Chinese national at the request of a third party — a reference to Canada's detention of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive who was detained in Vancouver last month at the request of the United States.
“It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply [the] death penalty… as in this case facing a Canadian,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday about Schellenberg, a 36-year-old from Abbottsford, B.C.
Schellenberg had been retried after appealing his original 15-year sentence, hoping for more leniency. According to the ruling, Schellenberg involved in a drug trafficking ring and had conspired to smuggle 222 kg of methamphetamine from China to Australia in 2014.
He was also convicted of drug offenses in B.C. in 2012, when a judge told him, “Your country deserves much better from you. You are in one of the best places in the world to live,” according to court documents obtained by CBC.
Schellenberg’s criminal record dates back to 2003, when he was first sentenced to 6 months in jail for possession for the purposes of trafficking.
Schellenberg, pictured above in Dailan court on Monday, has been detained in China since 2014, and is expected to appeal the ruling.
Relations between Canada and China have plummeted since Canada detained Wanzhou, an executive with tech giant Huawei, at the request of the U.S., which is seeking her extradition. She has been accused of misleading multinational banks into violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. In what was widely seen a retaliation, China arrested two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, and businessman Michael Spavor. They remain in custody.
Some have speculated that Schellenberg’s death sentence was predetermined in light of recent events.
“I think it shows clearly that they wanted to apply the rules maybe with more zeal than they would have otherwise,” former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques told the CBC. He pointed out that Schellenberg’s retrial was organized quicker than usual and that foreign journalists were invited to cover the trial.
Cover image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a press conference in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Photo by Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)