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China 'acting arbitrarily'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's very concerned to see China "acting arbitrarily" by applying the death penalty to a Canadian convicted of drug trafficking.

Canada will do all it can to intervene on Robert Lloyd Schellenberg's behalf and Beijing's actions should be worrisome for "all our international friends and allies," Trudeau said Monday.

The development further strained already tense relations between Canada and China over the treatment of each other's citizens by their respective justice systems. And rights organizations said it raises serious questions about possible political interference in China.

A court in Dalian in northeastern Liaoning province announced Monday evening that it had given Schellenberg the death penalty after reconsidering his case.

Schellenberg was detained in 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016 on charges of being an accessory to drug smuggling.

His new sentence comes after China detained two Canadians on national security grounds in December in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of a Chinese technology executive.

Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, angering Beijing.

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

Fifty people, including Canadian diplomats and foreign and domestic media, attended Monday's trial, the court said in an online statement.

Canada's federal government intercedes on behalf of any Canadian facing execution abroad, Trudeau said in Ottawa.

"This is very much a concern to see that China is acting arbitrarily and applying the death penalty to a Canadian," he said, adding the government "will continue to talk to our allies and to China about this."

Schellenberg's aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family is awaiting any news regarding an appeal.

"All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed. Our thoughts are with Robert at this time," she said in an email to The Canadian Press. "It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation."

The family also issued a short statement late Monday that said they are working with their MP, Ed Fast, who they said is "working hard on our behalf to ensure that the Trudeau government makes every effort to secure fair treatment for Robert."

"The Schellenberg family requests that all Canadians stand with us and pray for the safe return of our loved one," the statement said.

Canada updated its travel advice on Monday for citizens visiting China, the first change since before tensions between the countries increased last month.

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.

Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client has 10 days to contest the latest sentence.



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