One day after China sentenced a Canadian man to die, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says officials have made a formal request for clemency.
In response to questions from reporters on Tuesday, Freeland said that she has met twice with China’s ambassador to Canada about the decision on Monday to up the sentence imposed on Robert Schellenberg, who was sentenced to 15 years in a Chinese prison for drug smuggling but received the death sentence following his appeal of that ruling.
“We have already spoken with China’s ambassador to Canada and requested clemency,” she told reporters.
“I would also like to say with the case of Mr. Schellenberg, it’s important for us to remember that we’re talking about a human being, about a person. I spoke yesterday with Mr. Schellenberg’s father and it was a very emotional conversation for him, as people might imagine.”
She continued, adding that, “I think I speak for all Canadians that we really understand how difficult the situation is and I think the Schellenberg family has our country’s sympathy.”
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Schellenberg was first arrested in China roughly four years ago on accusations of smuggling in 222 kg of methamphetamine.
His original sentence was handed down in November but his lawyers appealed the decision.
On review, the Chinese court — which is not independent as they are in Canada — ruled earlier this week the original sentence had been too light.
That decision comes as China continues to escalate a diplomatic feud over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, by Canadian law enforcement at the behest of the United States.
American authorities allege her company has been using a subsidiary to skirt U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Canada has an extradition treaty with the U.S. and arrested Meng under the terms of that agreement.
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The Americans have until the end of January to formally submit a request for her extradition, which would kick-start legal proceedings that could take years.
Meng denies the allegation but China has attempted to brand the arrest as an act of political interference in the Canadian justice system and two weeks after her arrest, detained two Canadians working in China on allegations of what officials there called “endangering national security.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Freeland have cast those detentions as “arbitrary” and over the past month, Canadian allies including the United States, European Union, Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands and others have all issued statements in support of the Canadian position.
On Monday, Trudeau also said China was “arbitrarily” applying the death sentence to Schellenberg.
Freeland repeated that assertion on Tuesday, characterizing the current situation as a “complicated and difficult moment” for the Canada-Sino relationship.
However, she also stressed that relationship will continue when asked if Canada might consider taking stronger measures against China for what some foreign policy experts have described as “hostage diplomacy.”
“Both Canada and China are committed to that relationship going forward,” Freeland said.
“I absolutely think the best thing for both Canada and China, and frankly for the whole world, is to get past these current difficulties.”