Mi'gmaq communities in the Gaspé region have take legal action against the New Brunswick government and Chaleur Terminals Inc., in a bid to halt construction of an oil terminal in Belledune, N.B.
Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation and the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat filed a notice of application with the Court of Queen's Bench in Campbellton, N.B., on Monday.
They are seeking to quash the approval to construct permit, environmental approval permit and site approval issued to Chaleur Terminals by the New Brunswick Department of Environment earlier this year.
The band and not-for-profit corporation allege the provincial government has breached its "ongoing duty to consult and to seek to reach a reasonable accommodation with the applicants," according to the court documents.
They want the court to issue an order prohibiting the government from issuing any further permits, approvals or authorizations to Chaleur Terminals "until such time as the province of New Brunswick has fulfilled its obligations to the applicants."
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The New Brunswick government and Chaleur Terminals have not yet filed responses with the court.
Sacred duty to protect salmon
Troy Jerome, executive director of the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, contends the proposed project is in violation of aboriginal title, rights and treaties.
He says his people have a sacred duty to protect the salmon in the Matapedia and Restigouche rivers, along which the oil would be carried in rail cars.
"Our people here fish salmon. If you look out on the river today, they're out there fishing salmon. It's our way of life. We've been doing that for thousands of years and we went and [did] what we had to do to defend our way of life in terms of protecting the salmon," he said.
'If there's even one rail tank that spills into that river, it's a lot more important to us than those 40 jobs.'- Troy Jerome, Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat
"We are one with the salmon. So the salmon [are] looking to us to protect them, and they provide us nourishment, so we have that kind of relationship, that direct relationship. And Chaleur Terminals right now, they're talking about a couple of jobs, even up to 40 jobs — if there's even one rail tank that spills into that river, it's a lot more important to us than those 40 jobs."
220 rail cars of Alberta oil daily
Chaleur Terminals, a subsidiary of Alberta-based Secure Energy Services, purchased 250 acres from the Port of Belledune last year. It plans to transport Alberta crude oil to Belledune by rail, for marine export abroad.
Construction is expected to start at the end of 2015 or 2016 and take about 18 months. Once complete, the project would see about 220 rail cars carrying oil to Belledune every day.
Jerome says people in the Gaspé area don't have much faith in CN Railway after upgrades earlier this year caused irreversible damage to the local salmon population, according to anglers.
And he says efforts to discuss the project with the provincial and federal governments have so far not resulted in proper engagement.
In April, CN Railway dumped 6,000 tonnes of rocks on the side of its tracks to prevent erosion — and right into an important salmon breeding ground in the Matapedia River, causing irreversible damage, according to Quebec's Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) officials have said the rail company didn't respect its maintenance work permit when it dumped the rocks during an important time in the Atlantic salmon breeding cycle.
A total of 22 municipalities in Quebec have voiced opposition to Chaleur Terminals' project in Belledune.
Local politicians in New Brunswick, however, have said they welcome the estimated 200 jobs it will create during construction and 40 permanent full-time jobs once it's in operation.