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Canadian still under Chinese death penalty, two still detained

Ottawa maintains death sentence in smuggling case is ‘arbitrary’

One Canadian remains under a death sentence in China while another two are still detained following the Vancouver arrest of Huawei’s chief executive officer in December.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, originally sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year term for drug smuggling, had his sentence changed to the death penalty in January after Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in northeastern China reconsidered his case.

Global Affairs Canada spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said Ottawa continues to seek clemency in Schellenberg’s case.

“It is of extreme concern to our government that China has chosen to arbitrarily apply the death penalty. It is also very concerning for our allies and for countries worldwide,” Bérubé said, adding Canada opposes use of the death penalty anywhere.

“We are following the appeal process closely and call on the Chinese authorities to ensure it is fair and transparent,” Bérubé said. “Global Affairs Canada will continue to provide consular services to Mr. Schellenberg and his family. “

The change of the sentence was seen by many as retaliation against Canada for the arrest of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. She was taken into custody Dec. 1 after an extradition request to Ottawa from the United States.

The arrest infuriated Beijing, which accused Canada of not abiding by the rule of law. Similar charges have been levelled by Canada against China.

Two men receive consular visits

Beijing charged Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor Dec. 10 with stealing sensitive state secrets. The two men have been held in China without access to lawyers, although Chinese officials say it’s standard procedure in many countries when issues of national security are involved. They deny there is a double standard in their treatment compared with that of Meng in Canada.

“I think you already know that Chinese authorities took forceful actions – in accordance with the law – against Canadian citizens Kovrig and Spavor because they were involved in activities that threatened China’s national security,” said Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kangin in a transcript of responses to media in Beijing.

Bérubé said Ottawa remains “deeply concerned” by what he called “the arbitrary detention” of the two men.

“We call for their immediate release,” Bérubé said. “The Canadian government is seized with these cases and Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to Mr. Kovrig, Mr. Spavor as well as their families. We will continue to seek further access to Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.”

Bérubé said Canadian consular officials were granted access to Kovrig and Spavor in February.

He said the purpose of such visits is to assess the well-being of Canadian citizens; to clarify the nature of the detention with the local authorities and with the Canadian; to provide guidance on the legal process in the country; to seek access to medical attention, if required; and to provide a communication link between the detained Canadians and their loved ones.

He said Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained Canadians and the rule of law. This includes Australia, the EU, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Spain, Denmark, NATO and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.


Reporter Jeremy Hainsworth can be contacted at