The Higher People’s Court of Liaoning (“appellate court”) in China on Tuesday upheld Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s death sentence for methamphetamine smuggling.
Initially, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Schellenberg to 15 years in prison for smuggling drugs. On Schellenberg’s appeal, the appellate court remanded the case for retrial concluding that the punishment was improper.
On retrial in January 2019, the court overturned Schellenberg’s initial 15-year verdict and imposed a death sentence instead. Contrary to the first trial, the court now concluded that Schellenberg is the principal offender in the smuggling operation as opposed to an accessory to drug smuggling. Schellenberg appealed the sentence.
The appellate court proceedings were held virtually while Schellenberg was in the detention centre in Dalian. Canadian Ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, consular officials and Schellenberg’s lawyer attended the verdict pronouncement in person in Shenyang.
Stating that it afforded all the appropriate rights available to Schellenberg, the appellate court upheld the sentence adding that “the evidence was true, sufficient, the conviction was accurate, the sentence was appropriate and the trial procedure was lawful.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau released a statement almost immediately, condemning the court’s decision to uphold the death sentence:
Canada strongly condemns China’s decision to uphold the death penalty sentence against Robert Schellenberg. We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg. We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and condemn the arbitrary nature of Mr. Schellenberg’s sentence…Global Affairs Canada will continue to provide consular services to Mr. Schellenberg and his family.
Refusing to release any further information on the matter due to privacy concerns, Garneau thanked representatives from Australia, France, Germany and the US for their presence during the court proceedings.
Tensions between China and Canada have escalated since 2018 after Meng Wanzhou, an executive of the Chinese tech company Huawei, was arrested at the Vancouver airport on a US warrant on allegations of fraud. It has been suggested that the sentencing of Schellenberg and Fan Wei, another Canadian citizen, to death on alleged drug-related offenses was done in retaliation for Wanzhou’s arrest.
The next and final step in China’s legal process is a mandatory review by the Supreme People’s Court. The timeline for a final verdict from the Supreme People’s Court is uncertain.