China sentences Canadian to death for drug smuggling

Trudeau condemns decision as tensions rise in dispute over arrest of Huawei executive

A Canadian citizen convicted of drug smuggling in China has been sentenced to death by a Chinese court in the north-eastern port city of Dalian, overturning a previous 15-year sentence deemed too lenient by prosecutors.

The harsher sentencing marks a significant escalation of tensions between China and Canada, after Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou was detained in Vancouver earlier last month.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 and tried in 2016 before being sentenced in November to a 15-year jail term. His appeal was rejected in December, with prosecutors alleging new evidence showed Mr Schellenberg had played a central role in a failed smuggling plot to ship methamphetamine to Australia.

Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister, told reporters in Ottawa that the death sentence was "arbitrary".

“It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all of our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply the death penalty,” said Mr Trudeau.

Although Ms Meng was held in Canada following a US extradition request, Ottawa has so far borne the brunt of China's fury over the arrest as Beijing has sought to avoid antagonising Washington while it negotiates a trade deal. China had warned that Canada should expect "serious consequences" over Ms Meng's detention.

China has since detained two other Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, a North Korea expert who ran a tour company in Dalian, claiming they were involved in "activities harmful to national security".

Chrystia Freeland, Canada's foreign minister, and Harjit Sajjan, defence minister, visited Washington last month to meet Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, US defence secretary.

Ms Freeland said at the time that the detention of Ms Meng was “not a political decision” by Canada. “It is very important to Canada that extradition agreements are not used for a political purpose and we believe it’s obvious that democratic countries like the US do the same,” Ms Freeland said.

Meanwhile, Huawei has publicly complained it is being targeted because of “ideological or geopolitical concerns”.

Ms Meng’s case is to be heard by Canadian courts before being passed to Canada’s justice minister if a judge rules in favour of the US request. Foreign policy analysts have warned the case could remain unresolved for years, extending the stand-off between Canada and China. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019