TORONTO – Two days after their arrest in China on suspicion of stealing state secrets, a Canadian couple was able to tell their children Wednesday that they weren’t under any physical duress, but remained confused and upset about the allegations.
It was the first message 54-year-old Kevin Garratt and 53-year-old Julia Dawn Garratt were able to convey — through a Canadian consular official — ever since being taken into custody by Chinese officials on Monday night.
“They just wanted everybody to know that they’re safe,” the couple’s oldest son, Simeon Garratt, said in an interview from Vancouver on Wednesday.
“Physically they’re fine, but they’re really, at this point, just very frustrated and confused and are just hoping that the Chinese government is able to see the truth.”
The couple, who is fluent in Mandarin, has lived in China for the past 30 years and has been running a coffee shop since 2008 in the city of Dandong, which lies on the border with North Korea.
They were out for dinner with friends when they were detained earlier this week, with their four grown children simply told their parents were being held in an undisclosed location in the city.
Canadian consular officials were able to secure a meeting with the pair on Wednesday, meeting separately with each of them for half an hour, said Garratt.
“The conditions are fine. The Chinese side kept emphasizing the fact that they’re meeting with every human rights code,” he said, adding that his parents were being held in a guesthouse under constant guard. “They’re not allowed to leave or talk to anybody.”
The couple is being investigated on suspicion of stealing state secrets about China’s military and national defence research — serious allegations that weren’t immediately explained to them when they were detained, Garratt said.
“The best way I could describe is my dad is upset, for sure. I think he’s angry, mad, confused, there’s a lot of things that they have going on and it’s not just them that suffers from this,” he said, noting that Chinese authorities have temporarily shut down his parents’ coffee shop.
The accusations against the Garratts came just a few days after the Canadian government blamed Chinese hackers for infiltrating computers at the National Research Council of Canada, a claim Beijing vehemently denied.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa, however, is dismissing questions about the timing of the Garratts’ detention.
“We believe there is no need to overinterpret this case,” spokesman Yang Yundong said in a statement. “Various rights of the couple have been fully guaranteed.”
The couple’s children have called the allegations against their parents “crazy,” noting that the pair has never had access to classified state information.
When not pouring coffee for their customers, the couple spend their time helping locals practice their English and raise money for humanitarian aid sent to North Korea through a charity they helped set up, their son said. While they are openly Christian, the couple has never tried to skirt China’s laws on proselytizing, he added.
“They actually just love China…They love the people, they love the food, the culture,” said Garratt, noting that his 21-year-old brother is attending university on a scholarship from the Chinese government.
“The Chinese government is basically paying him to go to school there for the next five years and it just boggles my mind that that kind of a situation can be coupled with some sort of a spy allegation against my parents.”
For now, the couple’s children hope Canadian officials in China can negotiate their parents’ release.
“The talks between the Chinese and the Canadian Embassy are still going on,” said Garratt.
“I’m really just hopeful that this whole thing gets cleared up and the Canadian government is able to put enough pressure to keep the situation moving. The worst thing in my mind is that this gets dragged out.”