I see that Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a 36 year old Canadian who was arrested in 2014 and convicted of being part of a scheme that aimed to smuggle more than 220 kilograms of methamphetamine from China to Australia, has, quite suddenly, had his 15 year prison sentence changed to a death sentence by a court in China.
I have no knowledge of the facts surrounding Mr Schellenberg’s case, I understand he was also convicted, in Canada, in 2012, on a drug-related charge, but I do know that many Asian countries impose the death penalty for drug smuggling and, despite my own, personal, general opposition to the death penalty in most instances,* I understand that drugs are a scourge upon societies and I am not shocked when someone is shot or hanged for drug trafficking.
I understand that, as the Globe and Mail editorializes, “For China’s government, the rule of law is a foreign concept.” But, for over 800 years, now, we in the Anglo-American West have developed a system within which the rule of law is a check on policy and politics while, in most of the world, including in China, the law is, most often, only a poor servant of policy.
Every Canadian goes to bed each evening knowing, with absolute certainty, that no matter what else (s)he might do, and no matter what troubles might befall him or her, her or his fundamental rights are protected against the whims of officials or politicians. If you scan the list of the almost 200 members of the United Nations I would say that you will find that in only about one in five or six of those countries can the citizens say the same … they certainly cannot in China. When the government in Beijing wants some action the courts do their bidding.
That Robert Schellenberg is being used a pawn in a political feud seems beyond doubt.
The Chinese are annoyed at the arrest of Meng Wanzhou; they are perfectly well aware of the Canadian “rule of law” and all that; China’s leaders and their senior advisors fully understand the intricacies of Western legal and political systems; but, they don’t much care; they are sending a message to Canada, and, through Canada, to e.g. Australia and Britain and anyone else who has limited hard power: if you step on our toes we will kick you, hard.
It’s a pretty simple message and it is being bluntly, even brutally delivered. I suspect that Mr Schellenberg’s execution will be delayed; he’s only of political value to the Chinese while he’s alive.
What can Prime Minister Trudeau do? Not much. The Chinese don’t expect him to release Meng Wanzhou, although they do want her to, somehow, avoid extradition to the USA for, at the very least, many months, even a few years. Perhaps they hope that Canadian judges, being conscious of what the Chinese can do, will find some way to release their Chinese prisoner. They may already have what they want: Canada looks a bit like a deer caught in the headlights and that’s the message the Chinese want to send to everyone else ~ this is what happens when you offend us. The message is what matters … not Mr Schellengerg, not even his very life, and not Prime Minister Trudeau’s response to that message.
Just today, the Globe and Mail reports, the Chinese delivered another stinging rebuke, this one aimed directly as Prime Minister Trudeau. The foreign ministry was impolite, to say the least, verging on being downright undiplomatic. That, too, is part of the “message” that China is delivering, to the world, via Canada.
Experts are saying that this dispute will drag on for a year or more; I’m inclined to agree. In fact the Chinese have a vested interest in dragging it out; they do not want Meng Wanzhou to face US courts because there appears to be some evidence that China has been breaching sanctions against Iran, amongst other things that infuriate the Americans. US trade actions are biting; while there are no real winners in a trade war, Donald Trump just needs to keep this one going his way, as it is right now, for another 18 months and he will be a shoo-in for a second term as President of the United States.
Canada is just a bit player in all this; the Chinese actually want good relations with Canada: they want to buy our resources, especially because we are one of the suppliers who can be trusted to live with our contracts ~ the Chinese want people who obey the law … when it suits them.
Canada has done nothing wrong and there is nothing to be put right; we are a whipping boy and we need to take out lashes, now, manfully. There’s nothing much for Justin Trudeau to do and there is, equally, little point in chastising him for doing nothing.
* I believe that the death penalty should have been retained, in Canadian law, for a tiny handful of crimes: mainly treason in time of war.