U.S. backs Canada as China questions motivations in Schellenberg case
Published Wednesday, January 16, 2019 11:42AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 16, 2019 1:42PM EST
The United States has backed Canada’s claim that the death sentence awarded to Robert Schellenberg is “politically motivated” as China continues to accuse the Canadian government of being soft on drug crime.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke Tuesday about Schellenberg’s case, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.
The statement says the discussion included Freeland and Pompeo expressing “their concerns about the arbitrary detentions and politically motivated sentencing of Canadian nationals.”
Schellenberg was sentenced to death Monday, following a second trial in China for being an accessory to drug smuggling. His first trial resulted in a 15-year prison sentence.
The timing and speed of the second trial have led to widespread suggestions that Schellenberg was being punished as part of an escalating domestic dispute between China and Canada.
Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained in China since the Dec. 1, 2018 arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou. Wanzhou, who is the chief financial officer of tech company Huawei, was arrested because of an extradition request from the U.S., which accuses her of violating American sanctions against Iran.
Meng’s case was also raised by Freeland and Pompeo, with the U.S. State Department saying they “noted their continued commitment to Canada’s conduct of a fair, unbiased, and transparent legal proceeding.”
Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been attempting to garner global support for Canada, and have repeatedly noted that they have received public backing in the dispute from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other nations. Trudeau spoke about the issue with the leaders of Argentina and New Zealand earlier this week.
“Our government has been energetically reaching out to our allies and explaining that the arbitrary detentions of Canadians are not just about Canada,” Freeland said Wednesday, while speaking to reporters in Repentigny, Que.
“They represent a way of behaving that is a threat to all countries.”
Freeland said the cases of Schellenberg, Kovrig and Spavor will be “top of the agenda’ for her next week when she travels to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum.
Canada’s courting of allies does not appear to have impressed the Chinese government. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China is “not worried at all” about mounting international support against the country’s actions.
“You can count by the fingers of your hand the few allies of Canada that chose to side with it on this issue,” she said, according to an English translation of her remarks published by the ministry.
Hua also reiterated the Chinese government position that Schellenberg’s sentence is appropriate given his crime. China regularly executes citizens and foreigners convicted of drug-related offences.
Asked about Australia’s support of Canada’s position, Hua said she found it “rather odd” because Schellenberg was convicted of helping people who were planning to move methamphetamine from China to Australia.
“Does the Australian side wish to see this large batch of drugs arrive in its land and endanger its people?” she said.
Hua also pointed to online comments by Canadians which, she said, suggested that Canadian public sentiment was against provoking an international incident over a person convicted of a drug offence.
“[It] seems to imply that some Canadians are even more sensible than their leader,” she said.
“If Schellenberg’s sentence to death penalty for smuggling 222kg of drugs is inhumane and inappropriate, does that mean it’s humane and appropriate to allow drugs to deprive more people’s lives?”