MONTREAL – An employee at Canada’s largest electricity producer Hydro-Quebec who was involved in researching battery materials has been charged with espionage for allegedly trying to steal trade secrets to benefit China, the Canadian police said on Monday.
China-Canada relations have been choppy in recent years, with both sides accusing each other of industrial espionage.
Earlier this month, Canada ordered three Chinese companies to divest their investments in Canadian critical minerals, citing national security.
Yuesheng Wang, 35, who worked at the state-owned firm as a researcher in battery materials, will appear in court in Longueuil, Quebec, the police said in a statement.
He is to face four charges, including obtaining trade secrets, unauthorised computer use, fraud for obtaining trade secrets, and breach of trust by public officer, they added.
“While employed by Hydro-Quebec, Mr Wang allegedly obtained trade secrets to benefit the People’s Republic of China, to the detriment of Canada’s economic interests,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said.
Wang, who is from Candiac in the province of Quebec, allegedly committed the crimes at the electricity utility from February 2018 to October 2022.
An RCMP special national security unit began investigating in August, the police said.
Wang worked for a Hydro-Quebec research unit devoted to developing battery materials that has teamed up with industry players including the United States Army Research Laboratory.
He started working there in 2016 and was fired this month, the company said.
“Damage was limited by our internal detection mechanisms,” said Hydro-Quebec spokesman Caroline Des Rosiers, who declined to detail what information Wang had allegedly tried to steal.
An RCMP spokesman said: “Wang allegedly used this position to conduct research for a Chinese university and other Chinese research centres. He reportedly published scientific articles and submitted patents in association with this foreign actor, rather than with Hydro-Quebec.”
Canada is seeking to scale up its own production and processing of critical minerals so it can produce electric vehicle (EV) batteries and battery materials domestically.
China is the world’s dominant supplier of EV battery materials.
“The fact that this alleged espionage was with respect to the battery ecosystem just reminds me how careful we’ll need to be,” Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters.
News of the arrest came as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a Group of 20 meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali. Chinese President Xi Jinping is also attending.
When asked about Wang’s arrest during a regular briefing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning said she was not aware of the situation, adding that “the Canadian side should deal with such cases in accordance with the law and not politicise them”. REUTERS