Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada has asked China to spare the life of a B.C. man facing a death sentence, calling capital punishment “inhumane.”
Freeland also trumpeted a long list of allies that the country has courted in its efforts to free two other Canadians imprisoned last month after Canada arrested a Chinese executive at the request of the United States.
Freeland’s remarks in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., on Tuesday came after China shot back at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier on Tuesday, expressing “strong dissatisfaction” with his criticism of a death sentence handed down to a previously arrested third Canadian, an alleged drug smuggler.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year prison term but on Monday, after a new trial, he was sentenced to die.
“Canada’s position when it comes to the death penalty is consistent and very long-standing,” Freeland said. “We believe it is inhumane and inappropriate, and wherever the death penalty is considered with regard to a Canadian we speak out against it.”
Canada has asked China’s ambassador to Canada for clemency, she said.
Freeland said she had “a very emotional conversation” with Schellenberg’s father on Monday.
“With the case of Mr. Schellenberg, it’s important for us to remember that we’re talking about a human being, about a person,” the minister said. “We really understand how difficult the situation is, and I think the Schellenberg family has our country’s sympathy.”
Freeland said even though Canada believes the death penalty is wrong, “Canadians who travel to countries where the death penalty is part of the criminal justice system need to be aware that it exists. That is just a reality.”
Trudeau said Monday he was very concerned to see China “acting arbitrarily” by applying the death penalty and that Canada will do all it can to intervene on Schellenberg’s behalf.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying shot back on Tuesday, saying Trudeau should “respect the rule of law, respect China’s judicial sovereignty, correct mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks.”
Hua told reporters at a daily briefing in Beijing that China expresses “our strong dissatisfaction with this” and is cautioning its citizens about travelling to Canada.
The foreign ministry’s consular-affairs office also published a notice Tuesday saying that Canada has recently “arbitrarily detained” a Chinese national — a reference to Canada’s arrest of Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou.
It urged Chinese citizens to consider their personal circumstances and “fully assess the risks of going to Canada for tourism.”
The notice mirrored Canada’s revision of its own travel advisory Monday that warned of the “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws” in China.
Global Affairs says on its website that Canadians are still advised to “exercise a high degree of caution” when visiting China — which is unchanged — but it now explains the warning is “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” It also now warns of the death penalty, as well as penalties for drug-related offences.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press