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Canada updates China travel advisory: 'risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws'

CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Monday, January 14, 2019 7:05PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2019 11:05PM EST

Canada has officially updated its travel advisory for China, suggesting Canadians exercise a high degree of caution “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

The move comes after diplomatic tensions escalated Monday when a Canadian citizen was sentenced to death.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was initially arrested in 2014 and tried in 2016, was re-tried and sentenced to death for allegedly attempting to smuggle methamphetamine.

“We are constantly evaluating our travel advice for Canadians traveling to China, as we do for all countries around the world,” said Global Affairs Canada in a statement. “All Canadians who are considering travel to China should carefully review the Government of Canada’s complete Travel Advice and Advisory.”

The update follows a similar change by the U.S. government earlier this month, which warns its citizens to “exercise increased caution” for similar reasons, including “special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.”

Schellenberg’s case escalated publicly after the Dec. 1 arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, at the request of the U.S. government. Since the arrest, China detained two Canadians in apparent retaliation — arrests that Canada has condemned as arbitrary.

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The new advisory underscores what former diplomat Ben Rowswell called a “chilling effect” in travel to China in the wake of the recent detentions.

“China is really shooting itself in the foot again and again in this case,” Rowswell, the president of the Canadian International Council think tank, told CTV’s Power Play on Monday. “The detention of two Canadians was already sending this chilling effect to any businessman, any businesswoman, any academic that might (not) want to travel to China for fear they might be arrested. Now they’ve got to be worried that they might be put to death.”

Though not the highest risk level, advice to “exercise a high degree of caution” means that there are “identifiable safety and security concerns or the safety and security situation could change with little notice,” the Global Affairs Canada website reads, adding that Canadians should “monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities.”

More than 100 countries are listed with high risk levels, including the two highest levels, “Avoid non-essential travel” and “Avoid all travel,” which are issued when the “safety and security of Canadians travelling or living in the country may be compromised.”