Canadian sentenced to die in China granted first consular access since January
OTTAWA -- Canada's Ambassador to China Dominic Barton was granted virtual consular access to Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian who is facing the death penalty in China, for the first time since January.
Global Affairs Canada confirmed the news in a statement released Wednesday.
"Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to him and his family," the press release read.
"Canada continues to call for clemency for Robert Schellenberg, as we do for all Canadians facing the death penalty."
Schellenberg was initially sentenced to 15 years in November 2018 after being convicted of playing a central role in a methamphetamine smuggling operation in China. However, Schellenberg was re-tried the month after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
At the January 2019 trial, he was handed the death penalty. Schellenberg has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2014.
Canada has condemned the sentencing, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accusing China of "arbitrarily" applying the death penalty when the news first emerged.
"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to arbitrarily apply [the] death penalty," Trudeau told reporters in January 2019.
Chinese officials have denied that the hasty retrial has anything to do with Meng's arrest, though Schellenberg's lawyer Zhang Dongshuo said at the time that it was "unique" for a retrial to be held so quickly.
The Huawei executive at the centre of the tensions between Canada and China was arrested at the behest of the United States, which had requested her extradition. The move put a target on Canada’s back and plunged relations between Canada and China into the deep freeze.
In addition to sentencing Schellenberg to death, China also arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in what the Canadian government has described as retaliation -- though China insists otherwise.
Barton was also granted consular access to Spavor and Kovrig on October 9, marking the first time since January that the two men were allowed to speak to Canadian officials.
In addition to Spavor and Kovrig’s arrests and Schellenberg’s death penalty sentence, China also briefly banned the import of Canadian beef and pork, blaming it on a banned animal feed additive they claim was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.
Chinese state-run media has also ridiculed the idea that Meng would be dealt with by an independent judiciary, and Trump has further fuelled Chinese conspiracy theories about political motivations behind Meng's arrest with his comments about potential intervention.
Meanwhile, Canada has been forced to fiercely defend the independence of its judiciary, despite Chinese pressure for Meng to be returned to home soil — pressure that resulted in what Canadian officials have called the arbitrary detention of the two Canadians in China.
With files from CTV News' Ryan Flanagan