The Chinese Embassy in Canada says there is “no need to over-interpret” the arrest of two Canadian coffee shop owners in China, and that “various rights of the couple have been fully guaranteed.”

In a statement released Tuesday, counsellor Yang Yundong – a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canada -- said that Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt are being investigated further.

The two are accused of collecting and stealing intelligence materials about Chinese military targets and endangering the country’s national security.

Simeon Garratt, son of the detained couple, said he can't understand why his parents have been arrested after spending three decades in the country.

"My only assumption is that there was some sort of misinformation along the way," Garratt told CTV News Channel from Vancouver on Tuesday. "It's just an absurdly crazy story. It just makes no sense to me at all."

China's Xinhua News Agency said in a report on Monday that Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt were being investigated by China’s state security bureau for suspected theft of military and intelligence information.

The couple has lived in China since 1984. They've run a popular coffee shop since 2008 in China's northeastern city of Dandong, which borders North Korea.

The couple is open about their Christian beliefs, and China has recently been cracking down on religion by demolishing churches and removing crosses from steeples in the southeastern province of Zhejiang. But Garratt doesn’t think his parents’ religion has anything to do with their arrest

"It's never been a secret that they've been Christian," he said. "There's nothing that has happened in the last week or so that would have changed the situation."

Family friend Gareth Johnson agrees, calling the couple “normal.”

“They're fairly religious people. At the coffee shop, they play religious music in there,” he told CTV news. “But they're not hard-core people or anything like that.”

The couple is also affiliated with the B.C.-based charity North Star Air, which provides humanitarian aid to the people of North Korea.

Garratt's brother Peter, who lives in China with his parents, was brought in on Tuesday for questioning at the state security bureau in Dandong where the couple is being held. He was later released and instructed not to talk to anyone.

"From what I've heard from other people, they're doing OK," Garratt said. "They're just a little bit shaken up."

Canadian officials said in a statement on Tuesday that they're monitoring the case and they are ready to provide assistance.

Payback for cyberattack allegations

The accusations against the Canadians come about a week after Ottawa accused China of being behind a sophisticated cyberattack against Canada's National Research Council, which forced a shutdown of the department's computers.

Lawyer and extradition expert Gary Botting said the arrests appear to be some form of retaliation.

“Canada has expressed what seems to be obvious: there is espionage going on in higher levels of government in Canada by the Chinese,” he told CTV News. “And so China naturally looks around to see who’s in an awkward position, shall we say. A vulnerable position.”

It’s difficult to say what will happen next, according to Yuen Pau Woo, president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. Woo studies Canadian relations with Asian countries at the independent think tank, and said it isn’t the first time China has accused foreigners of serious crimes.

“The difficulty is getting information from the Chinese as to what exactly the charges are,” said Woo. “My sense is that this is really the most crucial time now in the early days and weeks and months of the incident, where the Canadian government has to press very hard to advocate for the Garratts and establish a way for the Chinese to let them out as soon as possible.”

Woo said making an explicit link between the Chinese cybercrimes and the Garratts’ arrest won’t help their situation – especially as China's foreign ministry called the accusations "baseless" and said it was "irresponsible" of Canada to make such claims with "no credible evidence."

In December, a Canadian naval engineer was accused of trying to supply China with information about Canada's shipbuilding strategy, including plans to build warships and icebreakers.

Complete statement by Counsellor Yang Yundong, Spokesperson of Chinese Embassy in Canada:

“Two Canadian nationals, Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia Dawn Garratt, are suspected of collecting and stealing intelligence materials in Dandong, Liaoning Province, about Chinese military targets and important national defense research projects, and engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security. The State Security Bureau of Dandong City investigated the couple in accordance with the relevant law on Aug. 4. Right now, this case is under further investigation. The Canadian Embassy in China was notified by the State Security Department of Liaoning Province on Aug. 4. Various rights of the couple have been fully guaranteed.

We believe there is no need to over interpret this case. If we have further information, we will release it timely.”


With a report from CTV’s Laurie Graham