Canadian Couple Detained in China for Alleged Espionage

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | August 6, 2014 10:59 AM EST

A Canadian couple who owns and runs a café in China have been detained in that country for alleged espionage.

REUTERS/Chris Wattie
A woman wears sunglasses in the shape of Canadian flags during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 1, 2014. Canadians are celebrating their country's 147th birthday.

Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt are currently detained in an undisclosed location in Dandong, China on allegations of stealing state secrets. The pair have lived in China for 30 years and owns a coffee shop in Dandong, on the border between China and North Korea.

Peter Garratt, the couple's son who lives with them in China, said he last heard from his parents Monday night.

The younger Garratt said Chinese officials on Tuesday assured him his parents are ok, but will not be allowed to see and speak to them.

"They told me my parents were all right and that they're being looked after and they also told me to make sure that I look after myself and get a good sleep and eat and stuff like that," he told CBC Radio's 'As It Happens' program.

He likewise said that he's aware that he's "being watched because my phone's not working properly, my email and everything has been acting weird."

He was told not to speak to reporters. But "I feel it's better people know what's going on."

In a statement, China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the couple are suspected of collecting and stealing intelligence materials related to Chinese military targets and important Chinese national defence scientific research programs, and engaging in activities that endanger China's national security.

The statement did not elaborate on the charges.

The Canadian Embassy confirmed it knew of the reports of the couple's alleged detention.

"Our consular officials stand ready to provide assistance as required," Mary Anne Dehler, embassy spokeswoman, said.

Apart from their coffee shop, the Garratts also conducts travel tours as a side business. Their Western-style coffee shop is located on the border dividing China and the DPRK.

Simeon, another son who grew up in China but now lives in Vancouver, told CBC he believed his parents were caught up in a political mess between Canada and China. He thinks his parents were being made as an example.

The allegations against the Garratts occurred a week after Canada announced the Web site of the country's top research and development organization, the National Research Council, had been hacked by a "Chinese state-sponsored actor."

"I think it's just the relations between Canada and China right now are quite heated, especially over all the hacking accusations that have gone on over the last two weeks," he said.

He believed the allegations hurled against his parents were "wildly absurd."

"I know for a fact it's not true."

That the couple are Christians is an angle also being looked at.

"My parents are Christian, yes, and they don't hide that, but they aren't doing anything against the Chinese government or trying to proselytize or anything like that," Peter said. 

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(Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie / )
A woman wears sunglasses in the shape of Canadian flags during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 1, 2014. Canadians are celebrating their country's 147th birthday.
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