Members of three Mi'gmaq communities in the Gaspé region were in court Tuesday, the first of a two-day judicial review which will hear their argument against Chaleur Terminals Inc. and the province of New Brunswick.
Listuguj First Nation and the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat (MMS) filed a notice of application in July 2015.
Their aim is to quash Chaleur Terminals' three previously approved permits: environmental, construction and site permits issued by the provincial government.
"We hope the judge listens to our case," said Troy Jerome, executive director of MMS, a not-for-profit organization. "We have ancestral rights here in the Mig'maq territory and we want the province to do this the proper way."
Chaleur Terminals' parent company, Secure Energy Services, purchased 250 acres from the Port of Belledune in 2014.
It plans to transport Alberta crude oil to Belledune by rail, for export abroad by ship, a separate project from the proposed Energy East pipeline.
Justice Lucie Lavigne heard the lawyers for the First Nations communities outline the plan of Chaleur Terminals, and its possible effect on the land, according to the experts they have consulted.
The plan would see 150,000 barrels of oil travel through Quebec and the Matapedia Valley to the Restigouche region on its way to Belledune on 220 rail cars each day.
The crude oil would then be pumped into storage tanks, and eventually transported to a terminal via 3.7 kilometres of above-ground pipeline and loaded onto tankers for external export.
Victoria LaBillois, a member of Listuguj First Nation, across the bridge from Campbellton, N.B., said she worries what could happen if a mistake is made along the line of delivery.
"Nobody knows the impact of a spill. Obviously we'd be devastated by one rail car going over with oil. What is the capacity to clean it up, what are the plans? Do people have budgets in place?" she said at a rally before the hearing Tuesday morning.
"There's disregard and there's no dialogue with the Mig'maq," said LaBillois.
Non-native members of communities along the Restigouche and Matapedia Rivers were also present at the rally, holding signs saying "Stop Belledune/Stoppons Chaleur Terminals."
A group called Tache d'Huile has been campaigning since early 2015 around the Bay of Chaleur to raise awareness of the project, which they believe to be dangerous.
The Chaleur Terminals project received praise from northern New Brunswick mayors in 2015, but citizens have been silent, compared to the opposition in Quebec.
"There has been no public consultation, no public hearings," said Maude Prud'homme, a member of Tache d'Huile.
"To say that there is support in New Brunswick is to say that there is official support, but do the people really think that? We don't really know."
Lawyers for Chaleur Terminals Inc. and the province of New Brunswick will respond to the application on Wednesday.
Justice Lavigne will make a written decision at a later date.