The government of Canada has asked China to spare the life of Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian man sentenced to death in China for trafficking 222 kilograms of methamphetamine.
“We’ve spoken with China’s ambassador to Canada and requested clemency. Canada’s position with when it comes to the death penalty is consistent and very longstanding,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday.
“We believe it is inhumane and inappropriate.”
The plea from Ottawa came as the rift with China deepened yet again in a worsening diplomatic dispute following the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive accused in the U.S. of fraud related to violations of sanctions against Iran.
On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry warned its citizens about travel to Canada and issued a stern rebuke to Ottawa, telling it to “stop making such irresponsible remarks” after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Beijing of arbitrarily enforcing its laws.
China is “strongly dissatisfied” with the Canadian criticism, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. She did not mention Mr. Trudeau by name.
But, she said, “the remarks by the relevant Canadian person lack the most basic awareness of the legal system.”
The strident response comes as China’s authoritarian leadership takes an increasingly assertive posture in its foreign relations, while Ottawa’s attempts to hold its ground have stoked growing hostility with the world’s second-largest economy.
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau spoke out after a Chinese court sentenced to death Mr. Schellenberg, 36, a Canadian man found guilty of organized international drug trafficking. Police in the northeastern port city of Dalian said he was part of a conspiracy to hide 222 kilograms of methamphetamine inside tires and export them to Australia.
Mr. Schellenberg had been sentenced to 15 years in prison but was sent for retrial on more serious charges after the arrest of Ms. Meng. His lawyer on Tuesday said that he will appeal.
“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 it is in this case facing a Canadian,” Mr. Trudeau said on Monday, after the verdict was announced. Soon after, the Canadian government issued a travel warning that “Chinese authorities apply, sometimes arbitrarily, the death penalty for both violent and non-violent crimes.”
But China responded on Tuesday with a travel warning, saying a Chinese citizen has recently been “arbitrarily detained by law enforcement authorities because of a request by a third country.” The alert cautions travellers “to fully assess the risks of travelling to Canada.”
Ms. Hua, meanwhile, suggested Ottawa instead remind its citizens “never to come to China to commit serious crimes like drug smuggling. Because there will definitely be severe consequences.”
She likened the travel alert to “a thief crying. Because it is Canada, not China, that has arbitrarily detained a foreign citizen without legal basis.”
Come to China, she urged, to “see how friendly and open Chinese people are.“
Ms. Freeland, meanwhile, sought to bring a human face to Mr. Schellenberg, who has also been convicted and jailed in Canada for drug smuggling. The foreign minister said she spoke with Mr. Schellenberg’s father in what she described as “a very emotional conversation for him.”
“It’s important for us to remember we are talking about a human being, a person,” she said, adding: “I’d like to say to him and the family that we really understand how difficult the situation is.”
But Ms. Hua accused Canada of wrongful conduct.
“Anyone with normal judgment can see that the Meng Wanzhou case is not a normal legal case, and the detention of Meng Wanzhou is not just. It is an abuse of legal procedures,” she said.
She repeated threats of “serious consequences” for Canada if Ms. Meng is not released. She also disputed arguments from critics that the Chinese court had political motivation in imposing a severe sentence against Mr. Schellenberg.
“Such a remark is malicious smearing and unwarranted accusation,” she said. “Any responsible government, when facing such kind of a grave crime, would take the kind of measures that reflect the government’s resolve in safeguarding the safety of their people,” she said.