A court in China has ordered a retrial for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian previously found guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced to 15 years in prison, ordered to pay $22,000 (or 150,000 yuan) and to be deported. Schellenberg has since then appealed the verdict.
After the prosecution had stated they found new evidence demonstrating the defendant was involved in an international trafficking operation. Prosecutors insisted Schellenberg was originally given a lenient punishment that was “obviously inappropriate” in light of the recent latest evidence.
Relations between Canada and China have been strained since the arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on December 1, 2018. Wanzhou was detained on U.S. charges linked to alleged violations of Iran sanctions. Schellenberg has been detained in Liaoning province since 2014, and following the arrest of Wanzhou, two more Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained in China on national security charges.
Meng Wanzhou has been released on bail and currently remains under surveillance as she prepares to fight extradition to the U.S., which has accused her of violating sanctions against Iran. China has demanded Canada free Meng; if she is successfully extradited to the United States, she would face fraud charges that carry a maximum sentence of 30 years jail for each charge. Meng has said she is innocent.
Chinese officials had invited several international news organizations to cover Schellenberg’s appeal hearing, along with state-run media.
In her interview with CBC News, Lynette Ong, associate professor in the University of Toronto’s department of political science and Asian Institute, said that these actions imply the Chinese government wants to attract the world’s attention to the appeal. “They are airing it in public as a showcase of their power and potential to put pressure on Canada,” she said.
“I think the authorities have the potential to intervene and the capacity, but it is still possible that he can get a fair trial… I think Chinese authorities are trying to show the world that, ‘Look, see, this is potentially another Canadian in our hands that we can apply pressure on you.’ But it could mean nothing more than that,” she added.
Neither China nor Canada has drawn a direct connection between Meng Wanzhou and the cases of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Although Chinese officials have not called the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor acts of retaliation, they have pointedly compared the cases, maintaining that the two men were detained in accordance with Chinese laws, while insisting that Meng’s arrest was illegal.