Third detained Canadian Sarah McIver given ‘administrative punishment’ for working illegally in China

  • China says it will provide ‘necessary assistance for Canada to perform its consular duties’ so teacher can return home
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 6:46am

Canadian teacher Sarah McIver has been given an “administrative punishment” for working illegally in China, Beijing said on Thursday.

McIver was the third Canadian to be detained in China in recent weeks, and news of her being sentenced removes a thorn in the diplomatic saga between the two countries that started with Ottawa’s arrest of Chinese tech executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing that a Canadian citizen had been “administratively punished” by local police for illegal employment.

“There is unimpeded consular communication between China and Canada, and China will provide necessary assistance for Canada to perform its consular duties normally,” she said.

Canadian newspaper the National Post reported on Wednesday that arrangements were being made for McIver, originally from Alberta, to return to Canada after she was detained over a visa irregularity.

Her detention came during rising tensions between Beijing and Ottawa following the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng in Vancouver on December 1.

The executive was later released on bail, but as the daughter of the founder of Huawei, one of China’s most high-profile technology firms, the case sparked anger in China for what many saw as a politically motivated move orchestrated by Washington.

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China’s foreign ministry had threatened “serious consequences” if Canadian authorities did not immediately release Meng, instead of extraditing her to the US to face fraud charges relating to breaking sanctions against Iran.

In what many saw as a retaliatory measure by Beijing on December 10 detained two Canadian nationals – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – for activities it said “endanger China’s nationals security”.

Kovrig worked as an analyst for the International Crisis Group and Spavor was based in the Chinese city of Dandong with business connections to North Korea.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said he favoured the de-escalation of tensions with China over Meng’s case, noting that the McIver case appeared to be routine and unrelated to the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor.

“There are tens of thousands of Canadians that live, travel and work in China,” he said at a year-end news conference in Ottawa.

The McIver case “doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of facts on the previous two”, he said.

McIver had reportedly been teaching in China for several months before her detention, after school officials transferred her to a school in a different city from the one where she was originally hired, according to the National Post.

China’s ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye wrote last Thursday in an opinion piece for Canada’s The Globe and Mail that Meng’s detention was “groundless”, and that those accusing China of a retaliatory act should “first reflect on the actions of the Canadian side”.

“It is both ignominious and hypocritical to revile China with double standards,” he wrote.

Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing and political science professor at Brock University, said the “heavy-handed” detention of McIver would raise concern among Canadians about visiting China for fear of “largely arbitrary arrest and petty harassment of this nature”.

“It is connected to the general attempt by the government of China to engage in anti-Canada harassing behaviour at all levels,” he said, referencing reported boycotts of winter clothing brand Canada Goose and Canadian business meeting cancellations in China.

“The level of lurid criticism of the government of Canada and the slanderous comments about the nature of the Canadian government and the motivations of the Trudeau government ... are designed to continue to pressure Canada so that Ms Meng is not transported to the US.”

Burton said those efforts to pressure Ottawa would continue, “even though it’s pretty apparent that the government of Canada is going to go through the full extradition process”.

“I do expect it to continue, I don’t think the rhetoric will be reduced, and I will expect that we will see many more incidents like this,” he said.

‘We were hoping China would react differently’: past Canadian detainees

Jane Duckett, professor of Chinese politics at the University of Glasgow, said there had been more scrutiny of minor transgressions committed by foreign nationals in China, so McIver’s detention may not be seen as reprisal in the same way as the other two cases.

“There’s no mention of state security in this particular case,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been ordered from the top down, or even lower level people might be acting on their own, somehow being a little more ... stringent in pursuing transgressions just because it’s a Canadian, in the spirit of the general situation.”

Duckett added that the apparent targeting of Canadian citizens in China appeared in tandem with a more assertive international stance that the Chinese party state had taken under Xi Jinping.

“It seems to fit with that mode of being a little more assertive and pushing back internationally, more overtly, even though they’re not admitting it,” she said.