BEIJING – A Chinese court issued a death sentence on Monday in a lawsuit against a convicted Canadian drug trafficker, a punishment designed to dramatically escalate China's diplomatic dealings with Canada and the US.
The new sentence of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg comes after a court of appeal this month in connection with prosecutors, who claimed that his original sentence of 15 years was too easy, as new evidence on the role of the 36-year-old Vancouver native in an organized Close the drug trafficking operation.
The case was condemned by western legal experts and Schellenberg's relatives, who say China is using Schellenberg as a bargaining chip to free a top-notch high-technology manager whose incarceration in Canada has angered the Chinese government.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his strongest statement on Monday, expressing "extreme concern" over the case.
"It is extremely worrying for us as a government – as all our international friends and allies should be – that China has decided to arbitrarily use a death sentence." he told reporters in Ottawa.
Huawei's Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested on December 1 at the request of the United States at Vancouver Airport. She wants her extradition to be prosecuted for fraud alleging violations of Iran's sanctions.
The Intermediate People's Court in Dalian announced Schellenberg's new punishment in an online statement detailing how he teamed up with three others to package more than 200 kilograms of methamphetamine in tires and to Australia to deliver. The statement did not describe Schellenberg's defense. He said earlier that he was framed.
If he wishes, Schellenberg could appeal again within 10 days, the court said. His case is expected to be reviewed by higher courts before he dies.
Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 and received his original sentence in 2018 in a case that largely went unnoticed.
This month became clear when the Chinese government took the rare step of inviting foreign media to its appeals hearing. Speculation was that Beijing wanted to use Schellenberg's case to put pressure on Ottawa to free Meng, a senior executive in one of the two, champions of the Chinese tech industry.
Last month, the Chinese authorities arrested Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two other Canadians living in China, on suspicion of national security crimes. They highlighted the case of Schellenberg and the prospect of killing him shortly thereafter.
"The procedures in Mr. Schellenberg's case would be unusual, even if he were a Chinese citizen. The fact that he is a Canadian, coupled with greeting foreign media to seek legal action, makes it downright suspicious, "said Margaret Lewis, a professor at Seton Hall University.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesmen have denied allegations that the motivation of Canadian prisoners is being driven for political reasons, claiming that their cases have been handled in accordance with Chinese law.
However, comments by Chinese ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, seem to acknowledge that Beijing has taken "self-defense measures" in response to the arrest of Meng.
In a fiery speech published last week in the Hill Times, an Ottawa newspaper, the Chinese diplomat suggested "Western egoism and white supremacy," arguing that the Canadians, who criticized China's treatment of Canadians, are racist and Committed double standards.
"For these people, China's self-defense is an insult to Canada," Lu wrote.