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‘Your country deserves much better’: B.C. judge warned Canadian sentenced to death in China

A B.C. judge told Robert Lloyd Schellenberg he was lucky to be living in Canada when he sent him to jail for drug trafficking in 2012.

As the Abbotsford man faces the death penalty in China, Justice Neill Brown’s admonition now reads like a chilling warning.

“Your country deserves much better from you. You are in one of the best places in the world to live,” Brown said as he sentenced Schellenberg in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack. 

“You are not caught up in Libya or Syria; I do not have evidence of any abuse in your childhood and I accept that you have your own struggles to deal with, but you have to confront those. After all, it’s not as if you are 18, and having to storm Juno Beach.”

The journey that carried Schellenberg from that courtroom in the Lower Mainland’s Fraser Valley to the centre of an international story is detailed, in part, in court documents obtained by CBC News. 

The 36-year-old was sentenced to death Monday in the Dalian People’s Court in China’s northeast province of Liaoning.

The ruling came after a sudden retrial of a 15-year sentence for allegedly conspiring with others to smuggle 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from China to Australia in 2014.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is shown in Vancouver after her release on bail as she awaits extradition proceedings. Critics have suggested Schellenberg’s death sentence is part of China’s response to the Huawei case. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the sentence, which comes amid speculation Schellenberg is one of several Canadians whose fates are enmeshed in a battle between Canada and China over extradition proceedings for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou currently underway in Vancouver.

Brown sentenced Schellenberg to two years in 2012 for possession of both cocaine and heroin for the purpose of trafficking as well as simple possession of cannabis resin and methamphetamine.

Because of time served, Schellenberg’s ultimate sentence was 16 months and 12 days.

‘Do not ever underestimate the seriousness’

Schellenberg pleaded guilty to all four counts, which came about as a result of an investigation into a high-volume drug sales operation that saw his apartment in Abbotsford used as a “distribution centre.”

According to the reasons for sentence, Schellenberg was on probation at the time that police raided his fourth-floor apartment, seizing $6,080 worth of cocaine and heroin as well as $3,205 in cash from pill profits.

The judge said Schellenberg was not considered to have been at the “lower rung” of the operation.

His criminal record dates back to February 2003, when he received a six-month sentence for possession for the purpose of trafficking.

In this image taken from a video footage run by China’s CCTV, Schellenberg listens as he is sentenced to death at the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in Dalian, northeastern China’s Liaoning province. (CCTV via Associated Press)

At the time Brown sent him to jail, Schellenberg was struggling with addiction.

“He had a work-related accident in which he injured his femur,” Brown said. “At the time of his arrest, indeed, he was wearing a cast, and apparently because of his injury, was abusing pain medications.”

The judge noted that Schellenberg’s father “had turned his back on him because of his criminal history although he still has the support of some family members.”

“You are fortunate that you have some family members supporting you,” the judge said. “Do not ever underestimate the seriousness of this kind of an offence.”

At the time of his sentencing in 2012, Schellenberg’s lawyer told the court he was “deeply ashamed, worried about his father and any embarrassment that he is experiencing in the community.”

‘I hope this is the last time’

Schellenberg’s parents could not be reached for comment Monday, but his aunt Lauri Nelson-Jones called the decision the family’s “worst-case fear confirmed.”

“Our thoughts are with Robert at this time. It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal.”

It is unclear what Schellenberg did between his relase from provincial jail, which was set for mid-2013 and his alleged involvement in the Chinese drug case. Some reports have suggested he worked in the Alberta oil patch.

According to the Chinese court, Schellenberg was part of a group that concealed 222 bags of methamphetamine in plastic pellets and shipped it from Guangdong to Dalian. He allegedly planned to conceal it in tires and tubing and ship it via container to Australia.

Chinese state television said in an earlier report that Schellenberg argued in court that he was a tourist visiting China and was framed by criminals. His lawyer told The Associated Press that he argued during the one-day trial that there was insufficient evidence for his client’s conviction.

Back in 2012, as Brown prepared to send Schellenberg off to jail, he told the drug dealer he was at a critical point in life.

“He has had his chances in the past. He is either going to cure himself of his addicton and reform himself and turn off the path that he has been on or he is not,” Brown said.

“Your basic task is to overcome your addition and reform your life. I hope this is the last time you appear in court.”


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