Many Canadians remain detained in China; at least four on death row
TORONTO -- While the release of the Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig is reason for celebration, there are many other Canadians still detained in China.
Late Friday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Spavor and Kovrig, two Canadians detained in China on espionage charges since December 2018, had been released and were on a flight back to Canada.
The detainment of Spavor and Kovrig had been largely viewed as a retaliatory response to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant related to the company's business dealings in Iran.
While China has consistently denied that the cases were in any way connected, earlier on Friday, a B.C. judge discharged the extradition matter against Meng after U.S. Justice Department officials reached a deal to resolve the criminal charges against her, allowing Meng to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement and leave Canada, under certain terms.
While Spavor and Kovrig were released from Chinese custody after 1,019 days, Global Affairs Canada told CTVNews.ca on Monday that it is aware of approximately 115 Canadians currently still in custody in China.
At least four of these Canadians have been sentenced to death, with little information on when or if they will return home.
Robert Schellenberg was detained by Chinese authorities in December 2014, and was formally charged with drug smuggling in January 2015.
Schellenberg, originally from Abbotsford, B.C., was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in November 2018.
Following a retrial in December 2018, Schellenberg’s sentence was overturned and the death penalty was imposed in January 2019, just weeks after Meng’s detention. Similar to the cases of Spavor and Kovrig, Schellenberg’s upgraded death sentence is largely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Meng.
Schellenberg sentence was upheld on appeal in August 2021.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this death sentence for Mr. Schellenberg, we continue to seek clemency on his behalf. Canada opposes the death penalty in all cases and that continues with respect to that particular case,” Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters on Aug. 10.
Xu Weihong was sentenced to death on drug charges on Aug. 7, 2020, after allegedly gathering the ingredients and tools required to make ketamine, according to Chinese state media.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Xu’s sentence had been handled "independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures" and should not impact relations between Canada and China.
Ye Jianhui, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to death in August 2020 after being found guilty of manufacturing and transporting illegal drugs just one day after Xu’s sentence.
While details are sparse about Ye’s case, Chinese state media has reported that he and a co-defendant named Lu Hanchang were found with 218 kilograms of white crystals infused with the MDMA from a room the two used.
Fan Wei, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to death in April 2019 in a multinational drug smuggling case. Fan and a Chinese citizen were the only ones among 11 people charged at the time to given the death penalty.
The Canadian government has requested for clemency of Fan.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press