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China sentences Canadian man to death in drug smuggling case

Last Updated Jan 14, 2019 at 1:46 pm EDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s very concerned to see China “acting arbitrarily” by applying the death penalty to a Canadian convicted of drug trafficking.

Canada will do all it can to intervene on Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s behalf, and Beijing’s actions should be worrisome for “all our international friends and allies,” Trudeau said Monday.

A court in Dalian in northeastern Liaoning province announced Monday evening that it had given Schellenberg the death penalty after reconsidering his case.

Schellenberg was detained in 2014 and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016 on charges of being an accessory to drug smuggling.

His new sentence comes after China detained two Canadians on national security grounds in December in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese technology executive.

Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, which raised tensions between Beijing and Ottawa.

The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg’s case in December after Canada detained Meng, who faces extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges.

Fifty people, including Canadian diplomats and foreign and domestic media, attended Monday’s trial, the court said in an online statement.

The federal government intercedes on behalf of any Canadian facing execution abroad, Trudeau said in Ottawa.

“This is very much a concern to see that China is acting arbitrarily and applying the death penalty to a Canadian,” he said, adding the government “will continue to talk to our allies and to China about this.”

Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family is awaiting any news regarding an appeal.

“All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed. Our thoughts are with Robert at this time,” she said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation.”

Schellenberg’s lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client has 10 days to contest the latest sentence.

Zhang said he argued in the one-day trial Monday that there was insufficient evidence to prove Schellenberg’s involvement in the drug smuggling operation, nor had prosecutors introduced new evidence to justify a heavier sentence.

“This is a very unique case,” Zhang told The Associated Press. He added the swiftness of the proceedings – with a retrial held so soon after it was ordered – was unusual, but he declined to comment on whether it was related to Meng’s arrest

Schellenberg had been prepared for a more severe punishment, so he maintained a calm demeanour in court, Zhang said.

The court said it found that Schellenberg was involved in an international drug smuggling operation and was recruited to help smuggle more than 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from a warehouse in Dalian city to Australia.

A Chinese person convicted of involvement in the same operation was earlier given a suspended death sentence.

Tensions between Canada and China have been steadily mounting since Canadian authorities took Meng into custody in Vancouver and Chinese officials subsequently arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, for allegedly endangering national security.

The Opposition Conservatives have been calling on Trudeau to telephone Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The prime minister needs to seize himself with this troubling and deepening diplomatic dispute, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole tweeted Monday.

– With files from Alison Auld and The Associated Press

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