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China sentences Canadian man to death for drug smuggling

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Beijing of "arbitrarily" applying the death penalty amid an escalating rift over the arrest of a Huawei executive.

by Tamara Khandaker
Jan 14 2019, 3:39pm

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused China of “arbitrarily” applying the death penalty after a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling was sentenced to death on Monday in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

In a ruling that’s likely to further strain diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Robert Schellenberg to death after he appealed the 15-year sentence he received in November, which prosecutors argued was too lenient.

"It is of extreme concern to us as a government—as it should be to all our international friends and allies—that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty," said Trudeau on Monday.

This comes amid a deep diplomatic rift between the two countries, since the arrest of a Chinese tech executive at the request of the U.S. last month, and the subsequent detention of two Canadians in China, which is believed to be an act of retaliation.

Schellenberg, who has been detained in China since 2014, can appeal the ruling within 10 days.

The 36-year-old, who is accused of playing a key role in an international drug trafficking ring, has maintained his innocence.

“I am not a drug smuggler,” he said in court, according to AFP. “I came to China as a tourist.”

The ruling could further heighten tensions between Canada and China, as they each push for the release of their own citizens.

Last month, Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a top executive from Huawei, on an extradition request from the U.S. She has been accused of misleading multinational banks into violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Since then, Chinese authorities have detained Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on charges of endangering national security.

Trudeau told reporters that Canada has strengthened its policy when when it comes to interceding on behalf of Canadians facing the death penalty abroad.

On Monday, in response to Trudeau accusing China of “not respecting the principles of diplomatic immunity" in Kovrig’s case, China’s foreign minister Hua Chunying suggested that “the relevant Canadian person” should “earnestly study” the Vienna Convention to avoid becoming a “laughing stock,” Reuters reported.

“No matter how you look at it, Michael Kovrig does not have diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention,” she said, adding that he is not currently a diplomat and was in the country on a regular passport and a tourist visa.

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)