TORONTO – Foreign Affairs says consular officials are ready to help two Canadian nationals who have been detained in China.
Reports in China say the two are being investigated for suspected theft of state secrets relating to defence and military research.
The suspects are identified in Chinese state media as Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt. They run a popular cafe in Dandong called Peter’s Cafe, which serves western food and holds weekly English conversation classes. The couple runs the charity “North Star Aid,” a humanitarian aid organization that works in North Korea., which is directly across the river from Dandong.
The Garratts are from Vancouver and have been living in China since the 1980s. Their son, Simeon, is the co-founder of real estate technology company Spark CRM.
Simeon says he hasn’t heard from his parents directly but they are being held in custody.
“The latest I’ve heard is that my parents are being held in custody with Chinese authorities in Dandong, and the Canadian government is trying to contact them as early as tomorrow,” says Simeon. “They were picked up Monday night at 7 p.m. while out for dinner with friends.”
He says it comes as a shock since his parents are very well-established in China and familiar with the way business works.
“I was caught completely off-guard, and it just seems insane to me to honest. My parents have lived in China for almost 30 years and there’s never been any issues and they’ve only really been involved in things that have benefitted China as a whole,” says Simeon.
“They have done everything from helping out orphanages to starting kindergartens. They also had a translation company, they own and operate a coffee shop and do a lot of human aid work between China and North Korea,” he says.
Simeon says it’s likely politically motivated.
“Politically I think there’s probably something going on. Foreign Affairs is taking this very seriously, and obviously the allegations are very intense. Nobody really knows exactly what is going on.”
In a sermon at the Terra Nova Church in Surrey, B.C. in December 2013, Garratt speaks about the humanitarian work he does in the region.
“We serve coffee and we do a couple of other things too,” says Garratt. “The coffee house, this is not our focus, this is not what we are doing, our focus is still North Korea.”
He says working in the region is challenging but rewarding.
“We work with North Korea. North Korea is very oppressive, it is very challenging, they desperately need hope. We get this very special privilege of working with incredible people in North Korea. Some have gone through very sad things, continue to go through sad things.”
The charity operates a prayer and training house in rural North Korea.
“We have expanded, make it a place where people can hang out, place where North Koreans can hang out, 1, 2, 3 months in this rural facility,” says Garratt.
The official Xinhua News Agency said in a one-paragraph report late Monday that the Garratts were being investigated by the state security bureau in China’s northeastern city of Dandong that borders North Korea.
Xinhua did not provide further details. The offence of stealing state secrets is a serious crime in China.
Foreign Affairs says it’s aware of reports two Canadians have been detained in China and is trying get more information.
“Canadian consular officials are providing assistance to two Canadian citizens who have been placed under investigation in China. We are in contact with local Chinese authorities and the family, and are monitoring developments closely,” said John Babcock, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
“To protect the private and personal information of the individuals concerned, further details on this case cannot be released.”
Last week, Canada blamed Chinese hackers for infiltrating computers at the National Research Council of Canada — a charge the Chinese embassy in Ottawa denied.
China’s Foreign Ministry expressed strong displeasure over the allegation, urging Canada to withdraw the “groundless” accusation.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says the minister took up the matter with Chinese officials in Bejing during his visit to Asia.
— with files from Canadian Press
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