Canadian couple detained in China on suspicion of spying

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A Canadian couple who have resided in China for three decades have recently been detained by the government there on suspicion of stealing military secrets and other acts of espionage.

Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt live in Dandong, China, where they operate a popular cafe called Peter’s Coffee House, which is a haven for expats and other foreigners in the area. With longstanding ties to the community and what one of their sons calls an almost apolitical passion for living in China, the Garratts seem an unlikely duo to be embroiled in spying.

However, officials have confirmed the couple “are under investigation for suspected theft of state secrets about China’s military and national defense research,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The couple were last heard from around 6:15 p.m. their time, Friday night, during a text message exchange with their son at dinner.

The Garratts, who hail from Vancouver, have been living in China since about 1984, says their 27-year-old son Simeon. Simeon Garratt was born in China, but now lives in Vancouver. Dandong, where the Garratts and 21-year-old son Peter live, is in north-east China’s Liaoning province, and their cafe looks out at the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, which connects China to North Korea.

According to their children, the Garratts “requently travelled to North Korea and made a hobby of photographing shipments of goods, some of them illicit, moving in to the Hermit Kingdom,” reports the Globe and Mail.

Their sons also say their parents held church services at their home, in addition to running the popular cafe. Kevin Garratt, 54, is a Pentecostal Pastor; he and wife Julia, 53, are described by their children as Christian missionaries, though the children say they were always careful not to evangelize, though they did a number of charitable acts and were motivated by faith.

Peter Garratt has told the media he has reason to believe he is being watched, but has nothing to hide, so does not fear for his safety. He was contacted by investigating authorities for questioning, and was also asked to bring in clothing and toiletries for his parents.

Authorities in China have not said much about the allegations against the Garratts, however it is clear that this presents a rare and serious predicament for the couple and their family. These kinds of claims are “rarely made against foreigners and can carry a penalty as serious as death,” adds the Globe and Mail.

Photo: The Garratts operate Peter’s Coffee House in Dandong, China (Facebook)

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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