A court in China sentenced Canadian man Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death on Monday, January 14, for smuggling drugs.
The court also ruled that all the financial assets of Schellenberg must be confiscated and gave no hint that the death penalty could be reduced to prison time. He now has 10 days to appeal.
The Canadian, said to be about 36 years old, was arrested in 2014 for planning to smuggle over 200 kg of methamphetamine from China to Australia. Schellenberg was handed a 15-year imprisonment in 2018, but the court agreed to look into the matter after an appeal was made saying that the punishment was too lenient.
Just before the sentencing, Schellenberg said that he had done no wrong. "I am not a drug smuggler. I came to China as a tourist," the Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
After the verdict, Schellenberg's aunt Lauri Nelson-Jones said that the sentence was "horrific" and that the family was standing by the 36-year-old. "All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed," Jones told the BBC via email.
"Our thoughts are with Robert at this time. It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal."
Canada has also lashed out at China for the harsh death penalty and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it was a matter of serious concern.
"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply [the] death penalty ... as in this case facing a Canadian," Trudeau told reporters. He also said that Canada would intervene in the matter and discuss the issue with Beijing.
The move is now set to worsen diplomatic ties between Canada and China, which is already on the radar due to the December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. She was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States.
China had slammed Canada for Wanzhou's arrest, and Schellenberg retrial and death sentence is being seen as Beijing's way of expressing its displeasure with Canada. His arrest and the earlier trial received no coverage from the Chinese media, but Schellenberg has made headlines since the Huawei CFO's detention.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques also believes that Schellenberg's sentence was pre-decided. "I think it shows clearly that they wanted to apply the rules maybe with more zeal than they would have otherwise," Reuters quoted him as saying.
"The other thing that I think has to be noticed is the fact that they invited foreign journalists to attend the trial. They claimed that it's for transparency purposes. Well, if that is the case, they could have started doing that years ago. think all this was orchestrated."
Meanwhile, Canada has now issued a travel advisory to its citizens visiting China asking them to be careful of local laws.