Global pressure might help Canadian sentenced to death in China: former ambassador
Published Tuesday, January 15, 2019 8:39PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 15, 2019 9:47PM EST
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques says gathering more international support could be an effective strategy in saving the life of a Canadian sentenced to death for drug smuggling.
Robert Schellenberg of Abbotsford, B.C., was sentenced to death in China on Monday.
He had previously been sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, a new trial was ordered during an escalating diplomatic dispute between China and Canada, following the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last month.
Since Schellenberg’s new sentence, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been imploring leaders around the world to help lean on China.
Saint-Jacques called the growing support “unprecedented,” in an interview on CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that a number of countries get together to tell China: be careful on how you’re handling this case and be mindful of international law.”
The mounting pressure has gained notice in China. An editorial in China’s Global Times, largely seen as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, referenced the growing coalition but added Beijing wouldn’t be influenced by it.
“The West is speaking louder, but that does not mean it can represent the whole world. Unreasonable pressure from outside public opinion means nothing to China” it reads.
But Saint-Jacques said Canada should stay the course.
“[That’s] because bringing the international spotlight on China will make them think twice before they apply further measure against us,” he said.
Saint-Jacques has hope despite his own unfortunate experiences. While serving under former prime minister Stephen Harper, he tried to save the lives of two Canadian dual nationals in China who were also sentenced to death in cases related to drug smuggling.
“Chinese authorities ... want to prevent drug smuggling and therefore they try to apply the death sentence to as many cases as possible,” Saint-Jacques said.
“In 99.9 per cent of the cases, you are found guilty,” he said, noting that death sentences can still be commuted down to life imprisonment because of good behaviour.
“So we hoped they would get the death penalty but with a reprieve,” he explained.
But despite Harper’s personal pleas in 2014, the Canadian government only delayed their executions for a year, Saint-Jacques said. They were executed by lethal injection.
Donald Clarke, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said the precariousness of Schellenberg’s current situation stems from China not having a standardized system of clemency.
“The President of the United States can grant clemency but the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China … doesn’t have that particular pardon power,” he told CTV News Channel. “That is still within the [supreme] court system. Somebody would have to issue instructions to the court system to change the sentence.”
Saint-Jacques suggested the two countries convene another session of the Canada-China High-Level National Security and Rule of Law Dialogue -- a forum between the two countries to discuss pertinent national issues and disagreements.
He said the forum, which was created back in 2016, led to the 2016 release of Canadian Kevin Garratt, who’d been held in China for two years on suspicion of spying.
“I think this would be the right forum because it involves the national security people on the Chinese side,” he said. “Those people have a lot more power than the folks at the [Chinese] ministry of foreign affairs.”