Friday, August 15, 2014

Vancouver couple detained in China on suspicion of spying

Kevin Garratt, left to right, Julia Dawn Garratt, Hannah Garratt and Simeon Garratt pose in this undated handout photo
Days after the Canadian government accused Chinese hackers of infiltrating government agency computers, the son of a Vancouver couple detained in China on suspicion of stealing state secrets says he believes his parents have been “caught up in something that’s a whole lot bigger than them.”

“I have heard that they’re safe but they’re just a bit confused,” Simeon Garratt, the couple’s 27-year-old son who grew up in China but lives in Vancouver, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “They actually have no idea what’s going on.”

His parents Kevin Garratt, 54, and Julia Dawn Garratt, 53, who have lived and worked in China for the past 30 years, were out for dinner Monday night with friends in the city of Dandong, near the North Korea border, when they were detained by Chinese authorities

The detention comes in the wake of accusations from the Canadian government that China hacked into computers at the National Research Council of Canada, which Beijing officials have vehemently denied.

Xinhua News Agency, China’s official state news agency, reported that the couple is being investigated by the state security bureau on suspicion of stealing state secrets about the country’s military and national defence research.

Garratt said he was in shock at the allegations against his parents, who he said have lived in China for a long time and would never “try to push the limits or get around the system.” The couple have lived in Dandong since 2008 operating Peter’s Coffee Shop, located on the border of North Korea, where they also offer weekly English practice sessions for customers, according to the cafe’s website.

“My parents basically run a coffee shop,” he said. “My mum taught some courses at the university there, and they’ve done some human aid work in North Korea, but nothing ever detrimental or negative towards China, or anything like that.”

Foreign affairs spokesman John Babcock confirmed to Metro in an email that Canadian consular officials are providing assistance to two Canadians who have been placed under investigation in China.

“We are in contact with local Chinese authorities and the family, and are monitoring developments closely,” Babcock wrote.

Babcock said he could not provide further details on the case for privacy reasons.

Garratt said Chinese officials contacted his younger brother, who lives in Dandong, on Tuesday and told him to bring spare clothes and toiletries for the couple.

However, he said his brother wasn’t allowed to speak with his parents and officials didn’t explain the allegations against them.

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