US backs Canada as China questions motivations in Schellenberg case

Robert Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 for attempting to smuggle 222kg of methamphetamine.

Tensions between China and Canada were re-kindled on Monday when a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian citizen to d‌e‌at‌h for d‌r‌ug sm‌ug‌gling‌, a move that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has labelled as "arbitrary".

Meng, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, is out on bail in Vancouver and faces possible extradition to the U.S.

Days later, China detained two Canadians on suspicion of endangering state security: former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor.

The Chinese authorities initially sentenced the Canadian citizen to 15 years in prison.

On Monday, however, Schellenberg's sentence was upgraded to capital punishment, as his appeal backfired badly.

"I will say that it is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our worldwide friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply the death penalty, as in this case, facing a Canadian", he told reporters on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, speaking at a regular news briefing, expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the comments.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau has said his office had no involvement in the arrest decision which was a matter for the independent legal system. File photo: Commonwealth Secretariat, via Flickr. Canadian officials and his family are now scrambling to appeal the death sentence.

"But it won't be so quick, it'll probably be some time around the middle of next week", he said.

The ministry later issued its own travel warning, citing the " arbitrary detention" of a Chinese national in Canada.

Drug smuggling is punished severely in China, and foreigners convicted of drug crimes have been executed before, including a Briton in 2009.

Human rights groups say Chinese courts are not independent and can be influenced by the Communist Party.

"What's unusual is how this case shifted from extremely slow handling to suddenly rapid fire movement", said Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University.

MsChunying said the Dalian Intermediate People's Court had "strictly followed the provisions of the criminal procedure law" in Schellenberg's case.

"The timing is suspect and certainly his nationality makes it all the more glaring", she said.

"We don't know how much to talk about right now and what to say", says Schellenberg's uncle, adding, "You're not going to find out who Bob really is".

The court did not allow a two-year reprieve, which can be used to avoid execution through good behaviour.

The fate of the other two Canadians, who have been held in undisclosed locations, remains a mystery.

"We hope that they will respect the rule of law and China's judicial sovereignty".

"Although the cases are a consular matter between Canada and China, as the extradition case relates to a Huawei executive in Canada, there are principles at stake that concern us all".

China denied Ms Wanzhou was guilty and demanded she be released, saying otherwise "Canada must accept full responsibility for the serious consequences caused".

  • Eleanor Harrison