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Wang Bingzhang in 1998.Reuters

Inside a small prisoner visitor’s room in southern China, with three guards looking on, one of China’s most famous democracy activists looked at his son and offered a provocative idea.

Why not, Wang Bingzhang said, use your skills to defend Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive whose fight against extradition to the U.S. will move to a Vancouver courtroom Monday. It’s a hearing with few modern parallels, a domestic court proceeding with important implications for Canada’s economy and its global standing.

But it has also drawn close scrutiny from advocates for Chinese human rights and judicial reform – including Mr. Wang, who is serving a life sentence but has nonetheless followed news around the arrest of Ms. Meng, accused in the U.S. of fraud related to violations of sanctions against Iran. Mr. Wang’s interest reflects the wide-reaching repercussions of a case in which the involvement of a powerful Chinese company has shone a particularly bright spotlight on the exercise of justice in Canada.

The real winner out of Meng Wanzhou’s hearing? Canada’s rule of law

“You guys are Canadian,” Mr. Wang told his son, Times Wang, in the meeting last year at the Shaoguan Prison in Guangdong province. Both Times Wang and his sister, Ti-Anna Wang, hold Canadian citizenship and possess law degrees. Their father suggested they use their skills to help Ms. Meng’s legal case.

“You’re both lawyers,” said Mr. Wang, a former medical student in Canada who sought to bring democracy to China before his imprisonment in 2003 on espionage and terrorism charges. “Let’s show them what human rights really means.”

It’s an impractical suggestion. Times Wang is a member of the bar in California and Washington – not Canada – and Ti-Anna Wang, a graduate of McGill Law School, has not yet been called to the bar in Ontario. Ms. Meng, meanwhile, is backed by the financial might of a corporate heavyweight and does not suffer for lawyers.

But Mr. Wang’s request is “really illustrative” of the broad importance of Ms. Meng’s case, Times Wang said in an interview. “This is an opportunity to show China and the world what the rule of law really looks like, and to draw the sharp contrast with the treatment of Canadians in China.”

Shortly after Canadian authorities detained Ms. Meng, Chinese security services detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. They have been accused of violations of state secrets and have spent more than a year in cells with lights that never turn off, subjected to months of lengthy interrogation and barred from seeing family or lawyers. Ms. Meng, meanwhile, has spent time on bail in both of her multimillion-dollar Vancouver homes, spending her days painting and reading.

He disputed the argument – made by high-ranking Liberals including, most recently, Jean Chrétien’s former chief of staff Eddie Goldenberg – that Justice Minister David Lametti should exercise a provision of law that allows for a political intervention to end an extradition proceeding. Such a move could secure the release of the two Canadians in China, Mr. Goldenberg wrote.

Chinese authorities have decried the U.S. charges against Ms. Meng as politically motivated and accused Canada of acting as an accomplice to the U.S. in a bid to repress Huawei, a Chinese technological champion. “There is no circumstance under which China will agree to release the hostages unless Ms. Meng comes home,” Mr. Goldenberg wrote.

It’s a “bonkers” idea, Times Wang countered. “It’s telling the Communist Party that might equals right, and we agree with you.”

In China, advocates for legal rights have made similar arguments.

If the Justice Minister “decides to intervene and release Meng, it means he’s telling the world that even in a democratic society, judicial independence should remain subservient to national interests and political consideration,” said Mo Shaoping, a prominent Chinese human-rights lawyer. It’s a matter with significance beyond Canada, he said.

In China, the Communist Party controls courts, and top judges have dismissed the concept of judicial independence. “China does not believe in rule of law in democracies either, believing it’s also a political tool just as it is in China,” said Yaxue Cao, the founder and editor of, which publishes news and commentary related to Chinese civil society and human rights.

A political intervention to release Ms. Meng, even if justified by law, “will only prove to China that rule of law in the West is just like their rule by law,” warned Ms. Cao. “It will also send a message to China that Canada is weak and can be bullied into submission.”

Indeed, Ms. Meng’s case represents a notable moment in the expansion of what Wu Qiang, a scholar who is an expert in Chinese social movements, calls a new Chinese bid to expand the reach of “security capitalism.” Huawei has insisted that it operates as a private company. Mr. Wu sees it as a lynchpin in a bid by China’s Communist Party to use technological means to safeguard its security and its rule.

With reports from Alexandra Li