Canadian Man Sentenced to Death in China


Feud sparked by Huawei CFO’s arrest in Canada continues to rage on

Tensions between Beijing and Ottawa continue to escalate, as a Canadian man was sentenced to death on Monday in China’s northeast province of Liaoning. In November, The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to 15 years in prison on charges of mass drug smuggling. Earlier this month, prosecutors appealed the decision, stating that the sentence was too lenient due to evidence of Schellenberg’s involvement in international organized drug crime. Within 20 minutes of Schellenberg’s second appearance, the court decided to send the case to a retrial. 

In a blog post, George Washington University’s Chinese law expert Donald Clarke stated that the speed at which the court decided to retry the case was highly suspicious, and indicated that the decision had been made prior to Schellenberg’s court appearance. He also stated that the extraordinary speed with which the retrial was scheduled is indicative of the case being used as diplomatic retaliation. 

“Schellenberg’s retrial has been scheduled for January 14, a mere 16 days after the appeal decision. This is barely time for the minimum 10 days’ notice of trial required by China’s Criminal Procedure Law (Art. 187), and it is not clear that notice was in fact provided on or before January 4 as required. Given that the prosecution apparently plans to make new allegations that would justify the imposition of a death sentence, such a brief time is utterly inadequate for the preparation of a meaningful defence.”

All of this comes only a month after the Canadian arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies Co. After the arrest, the Chinese Embassy in Canada issued the following statement, “At the request of the U.S. side, the Canadian side arrested a Chinese citizen not violating any American or Canadian law. The Chinese side firmly opposes and strongly protests over such kind of actions which seriously harmed the human rights of the victim. 

The Chinese side has lodged stern representations with the U.S. and Canadian side, and urged them to immediately correct the wrongdoing and restore the personal freedom of Wanzhou. We will closely follow the development of the issue and take all measures to resolutely protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.

The request from the U.S. to extradite Wanzhou came after the U.S. uncovered evidence that she purposefully buried Huawei’s connections to a firm that attempted to sell equipment to Iran, despite international sanctions. 

The original warrant was issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York; after the arrest, Canadian officials  confirmed Wanzhou was charged with “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions.” The charges of fraud include using a shell company over five years to avoid international American sanctions. Skycom, the company in question, was used to provide telecommunication services to Iran. While Wanzhou asserts that Skycom and Huawei are separate entities, U.S. officials disagree. In addition to the fraud charges, U.S. attorneys state that Wanzhou was actively attempting to avoid prosecution by the U.S., as she was found in possession of “no fewer than seven passports from both China and Hong Kong.” 

When questioned by reporters, Trudeau felt that the arrest would have little impact on diplomatic relations with Beijing, stating that the two countries had a very good relationship. The following day, the Chinese government issued a warning to Canadian ambassador John McCallum, stating that the arrest “severely violated the Chinese citizen’s legal and legitimate rights and interests, it is lawless, reasonless and ruthless, and it is extremely vicious.” The government also warned of “serious consequences” if the actions by North American officials were not remedied.  Shortly after the warning was issued, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was detained in Beijing, for “endangered Chinese security.” The unspecific allegations were not followed with charges laid by the Chinese government, and Prime Minister Trudeau has referred to the detention as arbitrary and unacceptable. 

A second Canadian has also gone missing in China. Michael Spavor, a Canadian business consultant with ties to North Korea, shared his itinerary on December 10 over Facebook for a lecture series in Seoul. Spavor’s plane was set to depart from China that day; however, he never arrived in South Korea. 

In a statement referring to both Spavor and Kovrig, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang again accused the pair of being “suspected of engaging in activities endangering national security,” without specific charges being laid. Clarke also referred to the pair in his blog post regarding Schellenberg’s death sentence. 

“The case appears to reinforce the message, previously suggested by the detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, that China views the holding of human hostages as an acceptable way to conduct diplomacy.” 

The diplomatic tensions between Canada and China show no signs of easing during the coming weeks, and several former foreign officials have predicted that it will take approximately a year to resolve. President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau have both appealed to the government of China to refrain from utilizing their judicial powers as weapons in the diplomatic spat, though their pleas remain unanswered. Meanwhile, Schellenberg has 10 days to appeal the court decision, although due process has notably been missing from many of the aforementioned court proceedings.