Canadian to receive death penalty in China for drug smuggling

Jan 29, 2019

A court in Dalian in northeastern Liaoning province of China has announced that Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was sentenced to death after reconsidering his case.

Robert Schellenberg, of Abbotsford, B.C., was detained in 2014 and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016 on charges of being an accessory to drug smuggling. His case was reopened as a Chinese high court ordered a new trial in late December 2018 when the prosecution announced it had received new evidence to prove Schellenberg’s principal role in the case. Subsequently, Schellenberg was found guilty of participating in a ring that attempted to smuggle over 222 kilograms of methamphetamine to Australia from the port city of Dalian.

According to the Chinese court, Schellenberg and his accomplice purchased tools and tires in an attempt to repackage the drugs before shipping them out in containers. The prosecution states that Schellenberg had inspected the cargo and set a shipping date. After his accomplice turned himself into the police, Schellenberg attempted to escape to Thailand and was arrested in southern China in 2014.

Shellenberg’s death sentence further complicates ongoing tensions between Canadian and Chinese authorities, as his case was reopened following the December 1, 2018 arrest of Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies’ Chief Financial Officer, in Vancouver. Wanzhou was detained on U.S. charges linked to alleged violations of Iran sanctions. Subsequently, two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained in China on national security charges.
China has a zero-tolerance drugs policy, and has a history of executing foreign nationals convicted of trafficking. In 2012, Schellenberg was sentenced to 16 months in jail for drug trafficking in British Columbia. Justice Neil Brown, a B.C. judge, had told Schellenberg that he was lucky to be living in Canada: “Your country deserves much better from you. You are in one of the best places in the world to live.”

In 2009, Akmal Shaikh, a British citizen, was convicted of possession of 4 kilograms of heroin in China. He was executed by lethal injection despite protests from the UK government and his family members. According to Shaikh’s defense, he suffered from a mental disorder and was tricked into carrying the drugs.

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has expressed criticism of the verdict announced by the Chinese court and said Canada would do all it can to intervene on Schellenberg’s behalf.

Moreover, Canada had updated its travel advice for Canadian citizens traveling to China to “exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” The new advice states, “The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad… We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.”