A Chinese court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence passed on a Canadian citizen for drug smuggling -– one of a number of ongoing cases that have triggered a severe downturn in relations between Ottawa and Beijing.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison in late 2018, but that was changed to the death penalty just months later after a deepening diplomatic rift exploded between Ottawa and Beijing.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg
This photograph taken and released by the Intermediate Peoples’ Court of Dalian on January 14, 2019 shows Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg (C) during his retrial on drug trafficking charges in the court in Dalian in China’s northeast Liaoning province. Photo: Intermediate Peoples’ Court of Dalian.

The Liaoning Province Higher People’s Court said in a statement that both the verdict and sentence had been upheld.

“The facts found in the first trial were clear, the evidence was reliable and sufficient, the conviction was accurate, the sentence was appropriate, and the trial procedures were legal,” it said.

The Canadian ambassador to China hit out at the ruling.

“We condemn the verdict in the strongest possible terms and call on China to grant Robert clemency,” Dominic Barton told reporters.

“We’ve expressed our strong opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment to China repeatedly and we will continue to do so,” added Barton, who attended the appeal hearing in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

Robert Schellenberg
Robert Schellenberg. File Photo: CCTV screenshot.

Relations deteriorated in December 2018 after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on a US warrant.

China quickly followed suit by arresting two other Canadian citizens on spying charges, drawing further condemnation from Ottawa.

China abruptly revised Schellenberg’s sentence to the death penalty in January 2019, saying the original sentence was too lenient.

That prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express “extreme concern”, saying China had “arbitrarily” imposed the death penalty on Schellenberg.

Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. File photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr.

Barton added that a ruling was expected on Wednesday in the case of Michael Spavor, a businessman who was one of the two Canadians detained by China for espionage in the wake of Canada’s arrest of Meng.

Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, were both tried in March but no decision was ever announced.

Barton said he was travelling to the northern city of Dandong later Tuesday to meet with Michael Spavor.

He said the embassy had received no word on any ruling for Kovrig.

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