handcuffs generic
For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Agency

Montreal: Canadian federal police on Monday arrested a former electric vehicle battery researcher at public utility Hydro-Quebec on charges of espionage for allegedly sending trade secrets to China.

The man, who was recently fired by the utility, was taken into custody at his home in Candiac, a suburb of Montreal, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police national security squad.

Yuesheng Wang, 35, faces charges under the Criminal Code and the Security of Information Act for having "allegedly obtained trade secrets to benefit the People's Republic of China, to the detriment of Canada's economic interests," said a statement.

"This is the first time this charge has been laid in Canada," RCMP Inspector David Beaudoin said in relation to the espionage charge under the Security of Information Act.

While employed by Hydro-Quebec, Wang allegedly used his position to conduct reasearch for a Chinese university, Beaudoin told a news conference.

Wang, said Beaudoin, published academic papers and filed patents "in association with this foreign actor," using Hydro-Quebec information without its knowledge or approval.

This occurred between February 2018 and last October, he said.

The RCMP had started an investigation after receiving a complaint in August from Hydro-Quebec, which it notes is both "a critical infrastructure and a strategic interest to be protected."

Hydro-Quebec described Wang's work at its Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage as having been "related to battery materials."

In a statement, the utility said it had revoked his access when it became suspicious of his activities, and later fired him for what it said were "serious breaches of the company's code of ethics."

Wang is due to appear in court on Tuesday.

Canada-China relations have been strained since the 2018 arrest of a Huawei executive on a US warrant in Vancouver, and Beijing's detention of two Canadians in apparent retaliation.

All three were released last year as part of a deal with US prosecutors, but wounds have not healed.

Canada has recently called out an "increasingly disruptive" China on the world stage, following reports of foreign interference in its elections and use of illegal police stations in Canada to carry out policing operations on foreign soil - which Canadian authorities are also investigating, but Beijing has denied as "completely false."