Detained Canadian couple's family hires Beijing lawyer to fight China espionage case

On family's priority is pressuring authorities to allow more contact with father Kevin Garratt, son says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 11:42am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 11:42am

The son of a Canadian couple detained in China on charges of espionage said the family had hired a lawyer in Beijing because the Canadian government had not been able to help the family visit or communicate with his father.

Christian aid worker Kevin Garratt and wife Julia, who ran a coffee shop on the Chinese border with North Korea, were detained on August 4 on suspicion they stole state secrets and for threatening national security.

“We have brought on legal counsel in Beijing as of today. We will be pressuring the authorities to allow us our legal visit. The embassy has done all it can so now we are taking a bit more control,” Simeon Garratt, who lives in Vancouver, said on Thursday.

He said the family received one letter from his mother and they had sent a reply. “She said ‘I am fine’ and then wished my granny a happy birthday and told my brother to make sure he looks after my sister,” Simeon, 27, said.

But they have not been able to communicate with Kevin Garratt and were concerned about his high blood pressure.

The couple, from Vancouver, had opened a cafe called Peter’s Coffee House in Dandong, an important gateway to reclusive North Korea, in 2008.

Their son Peter, 21, also lives in China, while two sisters and Simeon live in Canada.

Peter Garratt said last week that a Canadian representative had met with each of his parents for 30 minutes and they had passed on messages saying they were safe.

But Simeon Garratt said the family was concerned about the health of his 54-year-old father, and had not been able to communicate with him. He hoped his brother, who had travelled to Beijing to meet with lawyers, would get another chance to exchange letters.

“He had been informed by authorities that he may be able to write a second letter to my mum so he is now on his way back [to Dandong],” Simeon said.

The investigation into the Garratts, who have lived in China for 30 years, began a week after Canada took the unusual step of singling out Chinese hackers for attacking a key computer network and lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing.

It is unusual for foreigners to be charged with violating China’s state secrets law – a serious crime that is punishable by life in prison or death in the most severe cases.

The Garratts’ sons have said they do not believe their parents’ religious beliefs led to their detainment.

Simeon Garratt said his father, Kevin, started a human rights nongovernmental organisation to do aid work inside North Korea and travelled there regularly.

His mother, Julia, taught at a local university and helped run the coffee shop.