The Canadian government condemned the ruling and appealed to China to grant clemency to Robert Schellenberg. His sentence was abruptly increased from a 15-year prison term to death after the Dec. 1, 2018, arrest of Meng Wanzhou on U.S. charges related to possible dealings with Iran.
In separate cases, two other Canadians, a former diplomat and an entrepreneur, were arrested on spying charges as China demanded Meng's release.
The Higher People's Court of Liaoning Province in the northeast rejected Schellenberg's appeal and sent the case to the Chinese supreme court for review, as is required by law before death sentences can be carried out.
"We condemn the verdict in the strongest possible terms and call on China to grant Robert clemency," the Canadian ambassador to Beijing, Dominic Barton, told reporters. He criticized the penalty as "cruel and inhumane."
"His retrial and subsequent sentence were arbitrary," Barton said by phone from the northeastern city of Shenyang, where he attended the appeals court hearing.
Schellenberg was convicted of smuggling 222 kilograms of methamphetamine, according to the court. He was sentenced in November 2018 to 15 years and resentenced to death in January 2019 after a one-day retrial.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig, and a Canadian entrepreneur, Michael Spavor, were detained in December 2018 and later charged with spying. A Canadian judge will hear final arguments in the next few weeks over whether Meng should be extradited. She has been living under house arrest in Vancouver.
Canada is, along with Australia and the Philippines, among a growing group of countries that face arrests of their citizens, trade boycotts and other pressure from Beijing over political disputes.
The United States and other governments have warned their citizens of a "heightened risk of arbitrary detention" in China for purposes other than law enforcement.