China’s claim that a couple of expatriate Canadians running a coffee shop in the city of Dandong were actually spying on Chinese “military targets” was always far-fetched on the face of it.
The case should have been dropped months ago, but now Chinese authorities have escalated it by formally indicting one of the pair, Kevin Garratt, on charges of helping Canadian espionage agencies gather intelligence in that country.
So far Canada’s only official response has been to say it finds the charges against Garratt to be “concerning.” We should be hearing a lot more out of Ottawa. If he was not working with intelligence agencies – and after a year and a half there’s been no evidence of that – then the Trudeau government should say so publicly.
Garratt and his wife Julia ran a café called Peter’s Coffee Shop in Dandong, on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, for years. As active Christians, they helped church groups send humanitarian supplies across the border and planned tours there.
Then, suddenly, China’s State Security Bureau arrested them in August, 2014, and said they were suspected of “collecting and stealing intelligence materials related to Chinese military targets.” All this, supposedly, while pouring coffee and serving lunch at the coffee shop.
Julia Garratt was released on a form of house arrest, but Kevin Garratt has been imprisoned ever since. To his credit, former prime minister Stephen Harper spoke out strongly on Garratt’s behalf. Harper also raised the case personally with China’s president and premier when he visited China in November, 2014.
Despite those efforts, Chinese authorities now claim to have found evidence that Garrett accepted requests from Canadian intelligence organizations to gather information in China, according to the state-run news agency, Xinhua. If there’s no truth to this, we should hear that loud and clear from the federal government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he wants to set a “fresh approach” in relations between Canada and China. He has the great advantage of being Pierre Trudeau’s son – and the Chinese still remember and value Trudeau Sr.’s pivotal role in opening relations with the Communist government back in the early 1970s.
Still, that doesn’t mean Canada should mute its voice when one of its citizens is unjustly targeted abroad. Especially when its own official agencies are also dragged into a legal proceeding.
We should be hearing from senior officials, including Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, on this case. China needs to know that a change of government does not mean Canada is any less concerned about what looks to be a perversion of justice.