US, European diplomats support Canada in Chinese court in death penalty appeal

May 9, 2019 Updated: May 9, 2019

OTTAWA—Canadian diplomats were joined in a Chinese courtroom Thursday by American, British, French and German colleagues to watch the appeal of a Canadian who has been sentenced to death for smuggling drugs.

The show of solidarity did not diminish Canadian worries over the fate of Robert Schellenberg of British Columbia.

Canada remains extremely concerned that China chose to apply the death penalty, a cruel and inhumane punishment, at the retrial on Jan. 14, 2019,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.

The foreign ministry also thanked Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the Czech Republic for sending representatives to the hearing.

Schellenberg’s new sentence was meted out six weeks after the RCMP detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant, plunging Sino−Canadian diplomatic relations to a new low. Nine days after Meng’s arrest, two other Canadians—ex−diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor—were detained in China on allegations they had violated China’s national security.

Canadians Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig
Canadians Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig have been detained in China since shortly after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018. (AP Photo)

The fate of all three Canadians remains uncertain: it was not clear when the Chinese court will rule on Schellenberg’s appeal, while Kovrig and Spavor are imprisoned in unknown locations, have been denied legal representation, have not been formally charged and have been allowed visits by Canadian diplomats about once a month.

Meng is free on bail and is living under house arrest at a Vancouver mansion. She is wanted on charges of lying to banks to avoid U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Meng appeared in a Vancouver court on Wednesday, where her lawyers said her defence would be based on the argument she shouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. because she hasn’t violated sanctions under Canadian laws and her arrest at Vancouver’s airport was unlawful.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, back right, is accompanied by a private security detail as she leaves her home to attend a court appearance in Vancouver on May 8, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, back right, is accompanied by a private security detail as she leaves her home to attend a court appearance in Vancouver on May 8, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the “arbitrary detention” of Kovrig and Spavor on Thursday and Canada’s ongoing efforts to win their release. But the Prime Minister’s Office provided no other details in a short summary of the call.

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she remains relentless in pushing the government’s attempts to build an international coalition of support to win the freedom of Kovrig and Spavor—an effort that extended to Schellenberg’s on Thursday with foreign diplomats attending his court appearance.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland speaks with the media in Ottawa, on Dec. 12, 2018. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland speaks with the media in Ottawa, on Dec. 12, 2018. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Freeland said she raised the detentions in her meeting at the Arctic Council in Finland this week with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as their counterparts from Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland.

At last week’s meeting on the Venezuela crisis in Lima, Peru, Freeland said she also raised the China standoff with Latin American allies.

“It is also an international issue and it is an issue that we believe our partners around the world need to speak out about,” Freeland said after the Arctic Council meeting.

“What I am pleased about—if it’s possible to be pleased in this very worrying situation—is the extent to which we have been successful and continue to be successful in rallying a very strong international coalition of countries that are both, privately in their meetings with China, but also crucially, publicly, speaking out on behalf of the detained Canadians.”

Freeland reiterated the government’s position that Meng is the subject of an independent legal process that is separate from politics.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, back right, is accompanied by a private security detail as she leaves her home to attend a court appearance in Vancouver on May 8, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office in Vancouver, Canada on Dec. 12, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
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