BEIJING—China denounced Canada on Jan. 15 for “irresponsible” remarks after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused it of “arbitrarily” sentencing a Canadian to death for drug smuggling, aggravating already icy relations. Canada updated its travel advisory on China on Jan. 14, saying Canadians should exercise a high degree of caution “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
The two countries have been at odds since early December, when Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, on a U.S. extradition request as part of an investigation into suspected violations of U.S. trade sanctions.
Days later, China detained two Canadians on suspicion of endangering state security—former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor.
The death sentence for Canadian Robert Schellenberg on Jan. 14 for smuggling 489 pounds of methamphetamines has become the latest strain on ties.
China has not linked any of the three Canadians’ cases to Meng’s arrest but has warned of severe consequences if she was not immediately released.
Trudeau said it should be of “extreme concern” to Canada’s friends and allies, as it was to Canada’s government, that China had chosen to “arbitrarily apply” the death penalty.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, speaking at a regular news briefing, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the comments.
“The remarks by the relevant Canadian person lack the most basic awareness of the legal system,” Hua said.
Taking Canada to task for issuing an updated travel advisory warning its citizens about the risk of arbitrary enforcement of laws in China, Hua said that Canada should instead remind its people to not engage in drug smuggling there.
“We urge the Canadian side to respect the rule of law, respect China’s legal sovereignty, correct its mistakes, and stop making irresponsible remarks,” Hua said.
Hours later, the ministry issued its own travel warning.
Citing the “arbitrary detention” of a Chinese national in Canada at the request of a “third-party country”, it urged its citizens to “fully evaluate risks” and exercise caution when traveling there.
‘No New Evidence’
Schellenberg had appealed against an original 15-year prison sentence issued in November, but the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in Liaoning province sided with prosecutors at the retrial that the punishment was too light.
A lawyer for Schellenberg, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client would appeal.
Zhang said there was insufficient evidence to prove Schellenberg was part of a drug syndicate, or that he was involved in the smuggling of methamphetamines.
Even if the court accepted all the charges, it should not have increased his sentence, given that facts the prosecution presented as new evidence had already been heard in court, Zhang told Reuters.
“Chinese law stipulates that during an appeal, only if new evidence is discovered and retried can there be an increase in the severity of a sentence,” Zhang said.
Schellenberg was arrested in 2014.
State media has played up coverage of his case following the deterioration in relations with Canada. The court invited media to cover the retrial, and state television aired a five-minute segment on the proceedings.
Drug smuggling is routinely punished severely in China, and foreigners convicted of drug crimes have been executed before, including a Briton in 2009.
Schellenberg had faced a number of charges in Canada related to drug possession and drug trafficking, according to Canadian court records.
But international rights groups condemned Schellenberg’s sentence, with some saying it was too severe and may have been politically motivated.
“China is going to face lots of questions about why this particular person, of this particular nationality, had to be retried at this particular time,” Human Rights Watch’s Washington-based China director Sophie Richardson told Reuters.