POINTE-A-LA-CROIX, Que. – Three Mi’kmaq communities in Quebec’s Gaspe region are asking the federal court to halt an oil export terminal in northern New Brunswick.
The communities want the court to reverse the approval of a $400 million project that would see Alberta crude shipped by rail to the Chaleur Terminals facility in Belledune, N.B.
Tanya Barnaby, executive director of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, said the federal government didn’t properly consult the First Nations communities on the project.
“We received a notice that a permit was granted to the Port of Belledune without any consultation to the Mi’kmaq and it is a federal obligation,” said Barnaby. “We felt we had no choice at this point but to go into court and fight it this way.”
A lawyer filed a notice of application with the federal court in Montreal on behalf of Chief Darcy Gray of the Listuguj First Nation and the secretariat’s two other members, the Mi’kmaq communities of Gesgapegiag and Gespeg.
The attorney general of Canada, the minister of transport, the minister of fisheries and oceans and the coast guard, the minister of environment and climate change, the Belledune Port Authority and Chaleur Terminals Inc. are named as respondents.
Barnaby said the Mi’kmaq have concerns about the environmental impact on their salmon fishery in the event of a spill along the railway system.
“Having increased traffic of 225 rail cars a day through our already aging railway system we don’t feel is safe in any way,” she said.
The court application is for a judicial review in respect to the October, 2015 decision made by the Belledune Port Authority that the project “was not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects.”
“The project has the potential to negatively and irreparably impact the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and Title, interests, activities, practices, customs and traditions of the Mi’kmaq communities,” the document states.
Of particular concern is the transport of heavy crude oil along the rail line which the document says poses a number of “serious risks.”
“Not limited to increased train derailments causing oil spills into the waters . . . including the Matapedia and Restigouche rivers and the Baie des Chaleurs, as well as fire and explosions. An oil spill would result in catastrophic and irreparable impacts to the ecosystems . . . and lead to the destruction, loss, impairment harm or contamination of habitats and wildlife.”
It says any salmon pools downstream from a hypothetical derailment “would be at risk within days.”
The court document alleges the federal government “completely ignored” and failed to consult with the Mi’kmaq once a decision to grant permission for the project was made.
“The duty to consult and accommodate owed by the Government of Canada to the Applicants in respect to the project is at the high end of the spectrum given the strength of their rights claims as well as the gravity of the potential impacts arising from the project.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Meanwhile, the secretariat is also waiting for a ruling from the Court of Queen’s Bench in New Brunswick, after it challenged the province’s granting of permits for the project during a hearing that wrapped up in May.
— By Keith Doucette in Halifax