TIME China

Canadian Man Detained in China for ‘Spying’ Freed After Two Years

Justin Trudeau Li Keqiang
Adrian Wyld—AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, before a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.

Kevin Garratt's return comes just over week after Justin Trudeau visited China

(TORONTO) — A Canadian citizen who was detained in China for two years over accusations of spying has been freed and has returned to Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he’s delighted Kevin Garratt is back in Canada with his family. His return comes just over a week after Trudeau visited China in a bid to improve relations.

Garratt had been indicted by prosecutors in Dandong, a city on the North Korean border where he and his wife ran a popular coffee shop and conducted Christian aid work for North Koreans. He and his wife Julia were arrested in August 2014 by the state security bureau. His wife was later released on bail. China’s official Xinhua News Agency had reported that authorities found evidence that implicated Garratt in accepting tasks from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China.

Trudeau said his government had made the case a priority at the highest levels. The release also comes a week before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is to visit Canada for talks with Trudeau.

Simeon Garratt, the couple’s son, has said his parents ran a coffee shop and did Christian aid work for North Koreans and there must have been a mistake. The couple had worked with North Star Aid, whose website said the British Columbia-registered charity seeks to help North Koreans primarily through providing humanitarian aid. Simeon Garratt has said his parents made no secret of their faith but did not flaunt it in China, where proselytizing is against the law. He has said they worked on getting school supplies, cooking oil and food into North Korea.

The coffee shop, Peter’s Coffee House, is located within sight of the Friendship Bridge linking China to North Korea. It was known for its North American cuisine and attracted a mix of tourists, students and locals.

The accusations against the couple came about a week after Canada accused a China-sponsored hacker of infiltrating Canada’s National Research Council, the country’s top research and development organization. China’s Foreign Ministry had expressed strong displeasure over the allegation, urging Canada to withdraw the “groundless” accusation.

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