A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death on drug trafficking charges on Monday after his previous 15-year prison sentence was deemed too lenient, a ruling likely to deepen a diplomatic rift between Ottawa and Beijing.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, nodded as the judge in the northeast city of Dalian asked him whether he understood the verdict, following a day-long retrial in which he declared his innocence.

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Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP.

“The court completely rejects the accused person’s explanation and defence because it is completely at odds with the facts,” the chief judge said in a courtroom packed with observers – among them Canadian embassy officials and three foreign reporters, including one from AFP.

He can appeal against the sentence at an upper court.

Schellenberg had originally been sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 150,000-yuan (US$22,000) forfeiture in November. But following an appeal, a high court in Liaoning ruled in December that the sentence was too lenient given the severity of his crimes.

“I am not a drug smuggler. I came to China as a tourist,” Schellenberg, said in his final statement before the sentence was announced. He was brought to the hearing in handcuffs.

The sentence comes against the backdrop of the Chinese government’s anger over the arrest in Canada of a top executive from telecom giant Huawei last month on a US extradition request related to Iran sanctions violations.

Michael Kovrig Michael Spavor
Detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. File photo: Twitter.

Chinese authorities have since detained two Canadian nationals – a former diplomat and a business consultant – on suspicion of endangering national security, a move seen as retaliation over the Huawei executive’s arrest.

The Dalian court said Schellenberg, who was detained in December 2014, played a “key part” in an international drug trafficking syndicate.

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