China Court Sentences Canadian Man to Death on Drug Charges

A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death on accusations of drug trafficking, a move that could escalate tensions between the two nations stemming from the arrest of a Huawei Technologies Co. executive.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg faces the death penalty for drug trafficking after a one-day trial, according to a statement posted on the website of the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court. Schellenberg was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison after his conviction, but saw the penalty increased after an appeal. He can still appeal the latest decision.

“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’’ the death penalty, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Monday in Ottawa.

The court said Schellenberg was involved in smuggling 222 kilograms (489 pounds) of crystal meth. His initial conviction on Nov. 20, with a lower penalty, found him to have been an accomplice. He has a 10-day window to appeal the latest decision.

The death sentence comes as two other high-profile Canadian cases in China remain in limbo. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were each detained on Dec. 10 in the aftermath of Canada’s arrest in Vancouver of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. Meng is out on bail, while Kovrig and Spavor remain in custody.

Timing ‘Suspicious’

“The timing looks very suspicious as it does for the other two Canadians — so to me there’s a high risk that this is another form of retaliation,” Gordon Houlden, president of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said by phone. “It has a chilling effect that goes beyond the cases themselves.”

China moves quickly to execute people after a conviction, he said, meaning there may be very little time to intervene once any appeal is dealt with. “There’ll probably be no choice but for the prime minister to make an appeal” directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Houlden said. “I’m not full of optimism that this will change the course.”

Canada accused China last week of not respecting the principles of diplomatic immunity in the detention of Kovrig — who is an employee of Canada’s foreign department but has been on leave from that job to work with the International Crisis Group. China said the claim of immunity makes Canada a “ laughing stock.” Trudeau repeated the accusation Monday.

Read more about the plight of previous Canadian detainees in China

China executes more people than any other country in the world, according to Amnesty International. The advocacy group estimates that Beijing executed thousands of people in 2017, compared to 993 known cases in the rest of the world, though precise figures aren’t available. In 2017, the group was aware of four countries, including China, that executed people on drug-related offenses.

Meng’s next hearing is in February, but such extradition cases can take years. Final say on extradition will fall to Canada’s justice minister, a role Trudeau reassigned Monday. Quebec lawmaker David Lametti was named to the job in a cabinet shuffle, replacing Jody Wilson-Raybould.

“I won’t comment specifically because I may have a role down the road but I will say that we are a rule of law country,” Lametti told reporters after being sworn in. “I will always act to protect the rule of law.” DM


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