POLITICS
01/15/2019 16:07 EST | Updated 01/16/2019 10:12 EST

Chrystia Freeland: Canada Asked China To Spare Canadian Sentenced To Death

B.C. man Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was originally sentenced to 15 years behind bars.

AP via CP
In this image taken from a video footage run by China's CCTV, Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial at the Dalian Intermediate People's Court in Dalian, northeastern China's Liaoning province on Jan. 14, 2019.

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada has asked China to spare the life of a British Columbia 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.

'Inhumane and inappropriate'

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.

Watch: Trudeau says China is 'acting arbitrarily' with Robert Lloyd Schellenberg death penalty

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.

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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.

Canada and China made a concerted effort to boost tourism last year to take economic advantage of the growing middle class in the People's Republic. The initiative appeared to bear some fruit with travel in the first 10 months of 2018 exceeding the number of Chinese tourists during the same period in 2017. Statistics Canada figures show more than 663,000 Chinese travellers visited Canada between January and October, compared with more than 620,000 between January and October 2017.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland participates in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Sept. 25, 2018.

Freeland urged all Canadians considering travel to China to consult the government's travel advisory.

Hua's comments add to increasingly strained relations between the two countries since Canada detained Meng on Dec. 1, followed soon after by China's arrest of Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations they were undermining national security.

Freeland said she wanted to "emphasize" how glad Canada is that "a large and growing, group of our allies has stood with Canada."

She rhymed off a list of countries — Germany, France, the Netherlands, the European Union, the United States, Britain, Australia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — for "publicly coming out and speaking against these arbitrary detentions. And that is very important."

The international outreach has sparked Chinese ire, including a scathing attack from Beijing's envoy in Ottawa that it smacks of "Western egotism and white supremacy."

Trudeau scoring international support

Trudeau has continued to shore up international support in the diplomatic feud with China over the Canadian detainees. He spoke with the leaders of Argentina and New Zealand Monday.

Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discussed "the detention and legal treatment of Canadian citizens in China and the need for all countries to respect judicial procedure and rule of law," said a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office.

The prime minister and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri "discussed the arbitrary detention of two Canadians in China and the importance of safeguarding international norms, including judicial independence and respect for the rule of law. They also discussed China's application of the death penalty to a Canadian citizen," said his office.

Rights organizations said Tuesday's remarks by the Chinese foreign ministry raise serious questions about possible political interference in China's courts.

The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg's case after Canada detained Meng, who faces extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges.

Schellenberg's aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family is awaiting any news regarding an appeal. His lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client has 10 days to contest the latest sentence.

With files from The Associated Press

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