Two Quebec employees with the Montreal-based equestrian multimedia show Cavalia have been imprisoned in China for allegedly smoking marijuana and are facing deportation, Radio-Canada has learned.
On July 14, Chinese police visited a hotel in Beijing where the Cavalia team was staying, and tested them for marijuana use. There were a number of arrests of members of the show's technical team, including two Quebecers who are still in prison. It's not clear if other members of the technical team, of other nationalities, were also imprisoned.
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According to Radio-Canada, the Canadian government's emergency consular assistance service was contacted the day after the arrests, but consular assistance wasn't delivered until July 18.
A diplomatic source told CBC's French-language service that the two employees are expected to be deported from China in the coming days, and Chinese authorities have asked Cavalia to buy those employees return tickets.
Little information available
Eric Paquette, spokesperson for Cavalia, initially told Radio-Canada on Thursday morning that he couldn't confirm or deny the information. He said later on Thursday that "employees" had "concerns" with Chinese authorities, and he said he wouldn't go into more detail to protect employees' privacy and not "hurt their ability to be repatriated."
"It's very important in our company policy to follow the laws of the country where we produce shows," he said.
Cavalia was created in 2003 by Normand Latourelle, one of the four co-founders of Cirque de Soleil.
The arrests come while the Cavalia show was on a planned break. The company had been performing in Beijing since April of last year, and plans to build a new 1,200-seat theatre for a new show in Hangzhou in 2018.
China's severe drug laws
It's common in China for people to be detained during the course of an investigation, even if charges haven't been laid.
China has strict laws around drug use, possession and production, and according to The Economist, may execute more drug offenders than any other country in the world. Possession of more than 50 grams of a drug may be punishable by death.
Chinese police regularly conduct random drug checks at bars and nightclubs and offenders may be arrested or even deported from the country.