Prince William and Kate travel to the French-speaking province of Quebec on Saturday where protests by a small group of separatists are expected as the royal newlyweds continue a nine-day jaunt through Canada on their first official overseas trip.
The royal couple will take part in a tree-planting ceremony at Government House and an early afternoon reception with veterans, war brides and their families at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa before flying to Quebec for a two-day stay.
In Montreal, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as they are officially known, will visit a children’s hospital and later put on aprons and take part in a cooking workshop before boarding a navy ship for an overnight trip down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Quebec City.
Quebec nationalist groups said they plan to protest the royal couple’s visit during scheduled stops in Montreal and Quebec City. The militant separatist group, Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois, or Quebecker Resistance Network, announced plans to stage a small protest Saturday outside the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre during the royal couple’s visit, said RRQ spokesman Julien Gaudreau. A coalition of other groups will hold a press conference in support of the more militant RRQ, Gaudreau said.
A larger RRQ protest is planned for Quebec City on Sunday. More than 100 people will demonstrate outside city hall, some of them coming in by bus from other parts of the province, said Gaudreau. The Montreal protest, announced more recently, is intended to keep pressure on the couple during both their days in Quebec, he said.
“We want the message to get across that the monarchy is not welcome in Quebec — there are people who aren’t happy,” said protest organizer Patrick Bourgeois, leader of the Quebecker Resistance Network. “We want it to be unpleasant for him.”
A 2009 visit by Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, to Montreal was disrupted by more than 200 separatist protesters. The protesters sat in the street, blocking the prince’s way into a ceremony planned at an armory, and threw eggs at the soldiers who were accompanying him and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. The couple were forced to enter the building through a back door and missed an elaborate welcoming ceremony that had been planned.
Prince William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, found herself in the eye of a Quebec nationalist storm during a trip in 1964. As she toured Montreal, helmeted police officers clashed with several hundred boisterous marchers, who flashed obscene, two-finger “V’’ signs at the young monarch.
In 1990, Canada Day celebrations were disrupted briefly by protesters from Quebec who booed and turned their back on the queen.
However, support for the separatists among Quebeckers has been on the decline in recent years as the 80-percent French-speaking province has enjoyed plenty of autonomy even without quitting Canada. It sets its own income tax, has its own immigration policy favoring French-speakers, bases its legal code on France’s and has legislation favoring the use of French over English.
In the May 2 parliamentary elections, the separatist Bloc Quebecois slumped from 47 seats to 4 in the 308-seat federal Parliament, rendering it all but impotent at the national level at a time when Quebec separatists are also out of office in their own province.
Prince William and Kate arrived Thursday to cheering crowds of thousands in Ottawa, Canada’s largely English-speaking capital. Poised and confident, they have thrilled crowds with warm, unscripted gestures, wading into throngs of well-wishers to shake hands and accept flowers and other gifts.
William and Kate joined in Canada Day celebrations on Friday, often stealing the show as they were feted by Canadian leaders and cheered by tens of thousands who lined the streets to get a glimpse of them.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed them to an afternoon program Friday at Parliament Hill as “the world’s most famous newlyweds” and said they represent “our unbreakable link with our past and our unqualified optimism for the future.”
The crowd — many dressed in Canada’s red-and-white colors — exploded in prolonged cheering and chants of “Will and Kate, Will and Kate.” A few wore homemade crowns in a nod to the royals.
In his speech marking Canada’s 144th birthday, the prince talked of his and Kate’s family ties to Canada — in French and English, as he had a day earlier.
He said that Kate had learned about Canada from her late grandfather, “who held this country dear to his heart for he trained in Alberta as a young pilot during the Second World War.”
On his side, the prince referred to his grandmother as “the queen of Canada,” since she remains Canada’s head of state, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd.
But the trip to Quebec isn’t expected to be as welcoming. Some Quebec residents this year said they are unexcited about the visit and angry that taxpayer money is being used to pay for the royal tour. Johane Beaupre, a 46-year-old Montreal teacher, said she will not attend a protest but supports the protesters’ cause.
“It’s an unnecessary expense that yields nothing,” Beaupre said of the visit. “(The monarchy) is a thing of the past.”
Michael Behiels, an Ottawa University professor, said there was much hostility between the French and the English in the years following Great Britain’s 1759 Conquest of New France — which is present day Quebec.
Behiels said public support in Quebec for the British royal family also dropped in the 20th century, after the province’s youth were conscripted to serve in the First and Second World Wars and when Quebec’s separatism movement gained momentum in the 1960s.