Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole urged Canada to consider boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics on Tuesday, one day after a Chinese court upheld the death penalty for a Canadian man who had been detained.
Robert Schellenberg was sentenced to death late Monday night over a drug smuggling charge handed down in January 2015. He was initially given a 15-year verdict, but it was overturned in January 2019 following a retrial.
“Yes, Canada should be considering a boycott,” O’Toole said, adding that China needs to be held accountable for its campaign of oppression against the Uyghur population in the country’s Xinjiang region.
“I know how hard our athletes are training for Beijing, but we are approaching a point where it won’t be safe for Canadians, including Olympic athletes, to travel to China.”
O’Toole slammed the denial of Schellenberg’s appeals as a “foreign government planning to take the life of a Canadian for political reasons.”
“The use of the death penalty is abhorrent, but to impose it for political reasons is inexcusable,” he said.
Schellenberg’s case has been sent to China’s supreme court for review, after which it will be sent to the Supreme People’s Court for another mandatory review.
Canadian Ambassador to China Dominic Barton, who attended the Schellenberg’s sentencing, said Monday expressed firm opposition to what he described as a “cruel and unusual punishment.”
“We have a view on all death penalty cases. We are against them everywhere in the world, and we maintain that. We will continue again here to seek clemency for Robert Schellenberg,” he said.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the federal government said it “strongly condemns” the decision to uphold the death penalty sentence and the “arbitrary nature” of Schellenberg’s sentence.
“We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg,” the statement read.
The Beijing Winter Olympics are slated to open on Feb. 4, 2022. In the meantime, groups alleging human-rights abuses against the Uyghur population have been calling for a full-blown boycott of the Winter Games.
“The time for talking with the IOC is over,” Lhadon Tethong of the Tibet Action Institute told The Associated Press. “This cannot be games as usual or business as usual — not for the IOC and not for the international community.”
China has vowed a “robust Chinese response” if the U.S. and its allies boycott the Beijing Olympics.
“The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said Zhao Lijian, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson. “The international community, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, will not accept it.”
Speaking to reporters, O’Toole also condemned China’s treatment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been arbitrarily detained since December 2018 in what is largely viewed as retribution for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Meng was arrested at the Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia at the behest of the U.S. government in December 2018, where She faces bank and wire fraud charges in the U.S. for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
“The Chinese Communist Party needs to know that the world is watching and we will be asking tough questions,” O’Toole said.
Kovrig and Spavor both faced closed-door trials over spying charges in March that ended without verdicts. Canadian officials were barred from attending both trials.
The verdict for Michael Spavor is expected later this week, a source with direct knowledge of the case told Global News.
More to come.
— with files from Reuters