A third Canadian citizen, Sarah McIver, has been detained in China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed, but he denied it was linked to the arrest of a Chinese executive in Vancouver this month.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trudeau said he was taking the matter “extremely seriously” but the detention was more “routine” than two earlier cases.
“We are still very much in the situation of collecting more information on this and I wouldn’t want to say anymore than that,” he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying wouldn’t confirm McIver had been detained, but said on Thursday that the Canadian had received an “administrative penalty (for) illegal employment.”
Hua added that McIver’s situation was different from the two other Canadian detainees. “The previous two have been put under compulsory measures by state security on suspicion of endangering China’s national security. This person was given administrative penalty,” she said.
Canada’s Global Affairs department told CNN it was providing assistance to McIver’s family but couldn’t release any more information.
The two other Canadians detained in China have been identified as Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat now working for a non-profit organization, and Michael Spavor, a businessman.
Those detentions were seen by many as retaliation for Canada’s December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese technology giant Huawei, at the request of the US over alleged violations of Iran sanctions.
There has been no official confirmation the detentions were linked to Meng’s case but the Chinese government has made clear its anger at her arrest, with numerous furious editorials in state-run media.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged Canada to “immediately rectify its mistakes” and release Meng.
“No matter what ridiculous pretexts they come up with, covering up under the appearance of being legitimate cannot cover up their ignorance for the real facts and their contempt for the rule of law, and people around the world are ridiculing them for this,” she told reporters.
Speaking Wednesday, Trudeau said Canadian officials were working with their Chinese counterparts on the previous two detentions.
“We are going to continue to defend them, to stand up for them, to ask for more information on the charges being brought forward (and) the reasons for detention,” Trudeau said.
Meng was released on bail on December 11 and is waiting in Vancouver for the next stage of her trial, which could see her extradited to the US.
When asked on Wednesday about the third detainee, Hua said she had no information on the topic. “I’m not aware of the incident you mentioned, I haven’t heard of that,” she said.
Paula Newton reported from Ottawa, Canada. Ben Westcott reported from Hong Kong.