The Chinese Foreign Ministry finally admitted on Thursday that Chinese police arrested a third Canadian over the past week. The detainee is a woman named Sarah McIver said to be suffering “administrative punishment” due to her “illegal employment.”
The Foreign Ministry did not elaborate on the charges, punishment, or legal process afforded to McIver, insisting only that “China and Canada are maintaining clear consular communication.”
Canada’s CBC news identified McIver as a teacher from Alberta and reported that, contrary to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s assurances, she has not been granted access to Canadian diplomats.
The CBC report included some details that will fuel suspicions McIver was, at the very least, inconvenienced by the Chinese government to pressure Canada into releasing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who faces possible extradition to the United States on charges of bank fraud and violating sanctions against Iran:
Erin O’Toole, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, said in an interview with CBC News the woman’s family told his office that McIver had been working in China for months without problems when Chinese authorities suddenly reached out to question her about her visa. She was then arrested, leaving her family deeply concerned.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed Canadian officials did not find out about this latest detention from their Chinese counterparts.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nevertheless insisted McIver’s arrest was not related to the Meng case and was not a matter of national security, as with China’s claims against the other two imprisoned Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Trudeau cited “preliminary indications” that McIver’s arrest is “not linked to a matter of national security for the Chinese.”
“The two situations are very different. The allegations of national security problems, even objectively, are very different from a routine case or a problem with a visa or something of that nature,” he said, leaving open the question of exactly why McIver was detained.
CBC quoted Trudeau expressing reluctance to personally contact Chinese President Xi Jinping on behalf of any of the three Canadian detainees:
“When I was in opposition … I remember standing in the House and challenging [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper to pick up the phone and get this Canadian released. I now understand that it’s always a lot more complicated than that,” he said.
“Sometimes, politicizing or amplifying the level of public discourse on this may be satisfying in the short term, but would not contribute to the outcome we all want, which is for Canadians to be safe and secure.”
According to a report from the South China Morning Post on Thursday, “arrangements” are being made for McIver to return to Canada. The SCMP cited reports that her arrest was somehow triggered after she was transferred to a school in a different city from the school that employed her for the past few months.