Ottawa is "profoundly concerned" about a Canadian citizen who has been sentenced to death on drug charges in China, the foreign affairs minister said Thursday amid heightened tension between the two countries.
"We oppose the death penalty at every step of the way," Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in an interview on CBC's Power and Politics. "We have said it time and time and time again to the Chinese government and will continue to do that."
The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong's penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.
The brief court statement gave no details but local media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country's manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools and began making the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu's home in Guangzhou's Haizhu district.
Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu's home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful painkiller that has become popular among clubgoers in China and elsewhere.
Champagne said consular officials were following Xu's case closely and were present at the sentencing. Canada is seeking clemency.
Death sentences are automatically referred to China's highest court for review.
Strained relations between 2 countries
Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver's airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company's dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China's rise as a global technology power.
In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.
Canada has accused China of arbitrarily detaining Kovrig and Spavor and has been lobbying for their freedom.
Champagne said Canada is trying to build an international coalition of nations to advocate against the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals and for consular access when they are detained.
"What we're trying to do also is to broaden the coalition because we think that when we act as the international community we have a bigger impact," said Champagne.
Xu was arrested two years before Canada detained Meng and relations deteriorated, and death sentences when cases involve large amounts of drugs are not rare in China.
In April 2019, China gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.
China also handed a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial following Meng's arrest, after he had already been sentenced.
The country has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.
House of Commons hearing this afternoon
These tensions, and how the Liberal government has handled them, are the subject of a hearing by a House of Commons committee Thursday afternoon.
Formed by a vote of opposition parties, the committee on Canada-China relations is to hear from a leader of Tibet's unofficial government in exile, and then from Canada's former ambassador David Mulroney.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said there was no connection between Xu's sentencing and current China-Canada relations.
"I would like to stress that China's judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures," Wang said at a daily briefing Thursday.
"This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations."
Like many Asian nations, China deals out stiff penalties for manufacturing and selling illegal drugs, including the death penalty. In December 2009, Pakistani-British businessman Akmal Shaikh was executed after being convicted of smuggling heroin, despite allegations he was mentally disturbed.
"Death sentences for drug-related crimes that are extremely dangerous will help deter and prevent such crimes," Wang said. "China's judicial authorities handle cases involving criminals of different nationalities in accordance with law."