July 6, 2017 / 5:15 PM / 3 months ago

El Salvadoran asylum seeker takes Canada to court over refugee law

A woman from El Salvador (L), requesting to be identified only as "E" for her family's safety, is embraced by a family friend before leaving Vive La Casa shelter by taxi with her daughters to file a refugee claim at the Canadian border, in Buffalo, New York, U.S. July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

TORONTO (Reuters) - An El Salvadoran woman and her two daughters are challenging a Canadian refugee law that bars their entry by land, the first time a court has heard a legal objection to the law with a real-life case at its center.

The woman, whose lawyers have asked that she be identified only as E, was rebuffed under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) when she arrived at the Canada-U.S. border early on Wednesday morning seeking refuge.

A federal judge in Toronto granted a suspension order on Thursday afternoon, allowing E and her daughters to remain in Canada with her husband as the constitutional challenge goes through the courts.

The denial of E’s refugee claim set in motion a constitutional challenge months in the making that could strike down a Canadian law criticized as the motivating factor for thousands of asylum seekers crossing the border illegally.

E’s lawyers say she and her daughters fled El Salvador in November, hoping to escape the gang whose members raped her and terrorized her family. Gang violence is one of the main reasons many people are fleeing El Salvador and Central American neighbor Honduras.

Lawyer Prasanna Balasundaram and his colleagues at Toronto’s Downtown Legal Services, along with interveners the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches, argue that the United States is not a safe country and that it has become less so after President Donald Trump gave immigration officers broader powers to detain and deport people.

They contend the STCA is discriminatory and violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen has said the agreement facilitates “orderly” processing of refugees and that the United States remains a safe country.

“There is no change to our government’s position,” spokesman Bernie Derible said on Wednesday.

The 2004 agreement has been challenged in court before: One judge struck it down in 2007 but that ruling was overturned on appeal.

E said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday evening that she is unsure what she will do if Canada turns her away.

“I want to do things the right way,” she said. “I don’t want to enter (Canada) without permission.”

Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Denny Thomas and Grant McCool

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