MISSISSAUGA — The brother of a Canadian man under investigation in China for espionage is calling the charges against his sibling "totally absurd."
"The charges are absurd, it's all political, " Todd Garratt told the Toronto Star from his Mississauga home. "The only thing I can think of is because Canada accused China of spying, China is now looking for retaliation. It's the only thing I can think of."
China's Xinhua News Agency says Canadian nationals Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt are being investigated on suspicion of stealing state secrets about China's military and national defence research.
Todd Garratt said his brother and sister-in-law have operated a café for the last several years, Peter's Coffee House, located in the northeastern city of Dandong in Liaoning province near the North Korean border.
Kevin Garratt, 54, is originally from Mississauga, said his brother, and lived briefly in Vancouver before moving to China in the mid-1980s.
Todd Garratt said three of the couple's four children were born in Canada. Their son Simeon, 27, currently lives in Vancouver and a daughter lives in Calgary; son Peter, 21, and daughter Hannah live in China.
Todd Garratt tried to reach his nephew, Peter, but found that his email and phone appear to have been blocked.
"We have been trying to get in touch with people, but haven't heard back, " said Garratt. "From what I've been told, the Canadian government is working to get them out or to do something about it, but I don't know any details on that yet."
The Department of Foreign Affairs released a brief statement on Tuesday, saying they were monitoring the situation closely and consular officials were providing assistance.
The couple's son Simeon said his parents were being held in an undisclosed location. "I have heard that they're safe, but they're just a bit confused. They actually have no idea what's going on, " Simeon told the Canadian Press.
Todd Garratt said Kevin and his wife have founded several orphanages in China and are openly Christian.
In November 2013, Kevin Garratt spoke at the Terra Nova Church in Surrey, B.C. and said that "God gave the couple a vision" to start the coffee house.
"We're China-based, we're North Korea-focused, but we're Jesus-centred, " Garratt told the crowd.
The detainment comes one week after Ottawa accused Beijing-backed hackers of breaking into the National Research Council's network, which China flatly denies.
Gordon Houlden, the director of the University of Alberta's China Institute, says he finds the timing of charges against the couple "odd."
"I do find it odd that in week one you have public complaints by Canada about Chinese cyber hacking . . . and in week two you have two Canadians arrested on extremely serious charges, " he said. Peter Garratt told his brother Simeon he'd been taken in for questioning, where he learned from Chinese officials that his parents were being held. "He didn't get to talk to them. They said maybe later, " Simeon Garratt said.
With files from The Canadian Press