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Sonia Ng , a female student who claims to have been sexually assaulted by Hong Kong Police officers, confronted a university official during a panel discussion about the institution's support for students arrested during protests in the city.CUHK Campus radio/Supplied

A prominent Hong Kong protester who has alleged police sexual misconduct holds a Canadian passport – and says Ottawa must stand up for people like her.

Sonia Ng, 24, is part of the large diaspora that has thrust Canada into the very heart of the city’s months-old pro-democracy movement.

Early on the morning of Sept. 1, police arrested Ms. Ng at a subway station in Hong Kong after a night of violence. Protesters damaged transit infrastructure, and police responded with pepper spray, batons and the firing of live rounds.

Over the next 48 hours, police brought Ms. Ng first to a hospital to treat her asthma, before taking her to the Kwai Chung Police Station and then the San Uk Ling Holding Centre, a facility near the border with mainland China.

In that time, Ms. Ng says, a male officer hit her breast, while female officers reached into her undergarments as part of a partial strip search and watched her intently as she used the toilet. Police also used vulgar language to refer to her and others, she said.

Ms. Ng’s willingness to publicly disclose what she says happened to her has made her a prominent figure in Hong Kong, where protesters have accused police of excessive violence and sexual misconduct. Hong Kong police have made no factual comment about her account, saying they will investigate any allegations. Ms. Ng says she will not make a formal complaint, citing her mistrust of police.

Since making her allegations public on Oct. 10, she has been deluged with hundreds of calls and vicious messages – including a lengthy and detailed e-mail pledging, “You will be gang raped within a year” – and accused of inconsistencies in her account. Her personal details, including her phone number, are circulating on social media in mainland China.

One call came from Liu Liang, a mainland Chinese man who told The Globe and Mail he wanted “to call her and find out the truth about why she is lying to the world and insulting Hong Kong police.” Local officers, he said, “are doing a great job. They just want to get Hong Kong back to normal.”

Mr. Liu accused protesters of doing “anything to force the government” to meet their demands, which include an amnesty for those charged with rioting, an independent investigation into police conduct and the granting of greater democratic freedoms through universal suffrage.

The case has important implications for Canada, underscoring the degree to which long-standing ties with Hong Kong, where roughly 300,000 people are believed to hold Canadian passports, have made the city’s continuing unrest a matter of direct concern for Ottawa.

Ms. Ng has never set foot in Canada; she was born to a mother with Canadian citizenship.

Still, she said in an interview conducted largely in Cantonese through an interpreter, Ottawa “should protect me as a Canadian citizen whose humans rights have been violated in Hong Kong. They should stand up for cases like mine as a Canadian citizen.”

Indeed, her case demonstrates that Ottawa “can’t ignore Hong Kong,” said Andrew Work, president of the Canadian Club of Hong Kong. “Whether it is Raptors fans or the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, this issue cannot be avoided.”

In August, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called for “urgent steps [to be] taken to de-escalate the situation” in a joint statement with the European Union that drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing. Ms. Freeland has also said Ottawa has made “careful plans for all contingencies” in Hong Kong.

Global Affairs Canada, in a written statement from spokesperson Barbara Harvey, said it “is aware of one Canadian who was detained in relation to the protests in Hong Kong. Consular services were provided. The individual is no longer in custody.”

Diplomats in Hong Kong “stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadians who are in Hong Kong as needed,” Ms. Harvey wrote.

Hong Kong police have arrested more than 2,200 people since the protests broke out in June. A police spokesperson declined to disclose how many of those hold Canadian citizenship and did not answer questions about Ms. Ng’s account. On Oct. 11, Cheung Po-yuet, chief inspector of the police family conflict and sexual violence policy unit, promised an impartial investigation, saying, “The police take very seriously such serious accusations.”

Police policy requires officers of the same gender as those arrested to take statements and conduct investigations, Chief Insp. Cheung said.

Bill Majcher, a former Mountie who is now a risk and investigations specialist in Hong Kong, said he had a hard time believing many claims against police. “In my view, the police are far greater victims of violence and mistreatment than the protesters,” he said. “Go to a prison anywhere in the world and everyone behind bars will proclaim they are innocent and have been picked on by police or a corrupt system.”

But critics have accused officers in Hong Kong of regularly violating procedures, including for searches.

“Any search that goes beyond a simple patting down has to have a justification. And the reason usually would be, for example, people who were arrested for suspected drug offences and there is a reasonable suspicion that they might be hiding drugs inside their undergarments,” said Randy Shek, a barrister who has helped co-ordinate some 200 lawyers offering pro bono legal services for protesters.

But police have used more invasive searches on demonstrators in the city for at least a decade, Mr. Shek said. “The police view it as a way of humiliating people.”

Amnesty International has also “documented an alarming pattern of the Hong Kong Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics,” it reported in September, including “evidence of torture and other ill treatment in detention.” In one instance, an officer ordered an arrested woman “to strip completely and go through a full body search after she talked back to the officer.”

Ms. Ng said police called her a cockroach and a vulgar word for female genitals. “They wanted to shame me. And they wanted to dehumanize me,” she said.

In the Kwai Chung Police Station, she was ordered to submit to a Level 2 body search, which involved taking off her shirt while a female officer ran fingers beneath her upper and lower undergarments. At San Uk Ling Holding Centre, an officer ordered another Level 2 search, but Jackie Chen, a social worker, questioned the need for such a search, and the officer relented. Ms. Chen confirmed elements of Ms. Ng’s account.

Ms. Ng said she felt “a duty to speak out” because she knows of others who have suffered more serious sexual abuse.

She hopes to stay in Hong Kong, but knows her Canadian passport gives her options.

“If the movement fails in the end, and the Chinese Communist Party conducts large-scale retribution on those involved, then I will move to Canada,” she said.

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