Canada Condemns China Ruling Upholding Citizen’s Death Sentence
(Bloomberg) -- Canada condemned a Chinese court’s decision to uphold the death sentence of a Canadian national convicted of drug trafficking, a decision that comes as a Huawei Technologies Co. executive’s extradition battle enters its final stages in Vancouver.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s bid to challenge his January 2019 death sentence was denied, the Liaoning Provincial High People’s Court in Shenyang said in a statement Tuesday. Schellenberg had been sentenced to 15 years in prison after his initial conviction, but the penalty increased after an earlier appeal that coincided with Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Canada.
The decision is one of at least two expected this week in politically charged criminal cases against Canadians that China has advanced in tandem with U.S. efforts to extradite Meng. Michael Spavor, who organized trips to North Korea, may learn Wednesday the verdict of his March trial on allegations that he stole and illegally provided state secrets to other countries, Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton told reporters Tuesday in China.
“We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and condemn the arbitrary nature of Mr. Schellenberg’s sentence,” Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement following the verdict. Garneau said that Canada “strongly condemns China’s decision” and will continue to seek clemency for Schellenberg.
The ruling must still be reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest tribunal.
The timing of the legal proceedings in China poses a major challenge for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, only days before he’s expected to call an election for September. The issue has become a major political vulnerability for the prime minister, who had sought to deepen ties with the Asian country early in his tenure only to see relations deteriorate dramatically.
The court cases are putting pressure on Trudeau to take a tougher stand against Beijing, as public opinion in Canada hardens against the Chinese government, and any developments on the file will almost certainly be election campaign issues.
Proceedings in Meng’s case entered a decisive phase in a Vancouver court last week, more than two and a half years after her arrest. She faces long odds of quashing the extradition, since Canada has refused or discharged only eight of the almost 800 handover requests received from the U.S. since 2008.
Spavor was detained along with Michael Kovrig -- a Hong Kong-based analyst at the International Crisis Group and former Canadian diplomat -- days after Meng’s arrest in late 2018 and has been jailed ever since. Kovrig also is awaiting a verdict after his short trial in Beijing on allegations of spying.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that things are happening right now while events are going on in Vancouver,” said Barton. The Canadian side hasn’t received any indication on the timing of Kovrig’s verdict, he added.
Trudeau’s government has criticized the Chinese prosecutions as arbitrary. U.S. President Joe Biden last week reaffirmed his opposition to the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor during a call with Trudeau and reiterated his pledge to push for their release.
China has in the past linked the cases of Kovrig and Spavor to Meng’s. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said last year that halting her extradition “could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”
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