China calls Trudeau's comments on death sentence for drug smuggler 'irresponsible'

Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg during his retrial on drug trafficking charges in the court in Dalian, China, on Jan 14, 2019.
Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg during his retrial on drug trafficking charges in the court in Dalian, China, on Jan 14, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China has hit back at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, denouncing as "irresponsible" his accusation that it had arbitrarily applied the death penalty to a Canadian national for drug smuggling.

A day after Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, was handed a death sentence after a retrial in the city of Dalian, China defended the court decision and urged Canada to respect its judicial sovereignty.

"Everyone is equal before the law. This is the true spirit of the rule of law. The comments coming from Canada lacks the most basic understanding of that, and we express our strong dissatisfaction," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on Tuesday (Jan 15) at a regular press briefing.

The latest war of words will no doubt aggravate already strained diplomatic ties between the two sides after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou last month on a US extradition warrant, and China in turn detained two Canadians in what was seen as a retaliatory move.

Schellenberg, who has previous drug convictions in Canada, was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison for smuggling 222 kg of methamphetamines. On Monday, the court in Dalian, acting on an appeal, imposed the ultimate sentence on him, prompting Mr Trudeau to accuse China of "arbitrarily" applying the death penalty.

The Canadian government later issued a travel advisory warning its citizens of arbitary arrests in the country.

When asked on Tuesday, Ms Hua said: "It should issue a reminder to Canadians not about the threats they may face in China, but a reminder that they should not engage in drug trafficking activities. If you come to China to engage in serious crimes, there will be serious consequences."

The ministry later issued a similar travel notice, warning Chinese citizens of the risks of being "arbitrarily detained at the request of a third nation" in Canada.

Schellenberg claims he was framed by drug traffickers after Chinese police arrested him on a plane in Guangzhou in 2014. He has been in jail since then and sentenced last November but, on Dec 29, a Chinese court ordered a retrial after prosecutors surfaced fresh evidence pointing to his role in organised international drug trafficking.

His lawyer said on Tuesday that he would be appealing against the death sentence.

China seemed eager to whip up international attention on the case, allowing foreign media to cover the retrial.


Foreigners found guilty of drug trafficking in China have not been spared capital punishment previously. Since 2000, more than 10 foreigners from Britain, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, South Africa, Myanmar, Laos and Russia have reportedly been sentenced to death in Chinese courts.

On Tuesday, Beijing took the opportunity to warn Canada again of "serious consequences" over the arrest of Ms Meng, calling it "an abuse of judicial procedures". She is wanted in the United States for violating Iran sanctions.

In the wake of her arrest, China detained and continue to keep behind bars two Canadians - former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor - for endangering China's national security.

Both Canadian and Chinese media have taken sides in the worsening diplomatic row. The nationalistic Global Times in China accused Ottawa of double standards.

"Whatever Canada does, it is the rule of law, but whatever China does is not," it said in an editorial on Tuesday, adding that Canada should "wake up from such cultural and value narcissism".

Canada's biggest paper, The Globe and Mail, argued in an editorial on Monday that while Canada has ensured Ms Meng's rights were respected and proceedings have been carried out in open courts, China has denied Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor regular consular and legal access and no public court appearances.