British royals' cross-Canada tour hits bump in Quebec

3rd July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prince William and his bride Catherine's first official foreign trip as newlyweds turned grim Saturday when Quebec republicans welcomed them to Montreal shouting "down with the monarchy."

"We will never bend, Willy go home!" some 60 protesters shouted outside a Montreal children's hospital the royal couple visited. "French Quebec!" and "Parasite go home!" they chanted.

The group pounded on buckets as the couple entered the hospital without acknowledging them, drowning out a much larger group of well-wishers, many of whom cried out "We love you Kate!"

Outside the Quebec tourism and hotel business institute, a line of riot police with shields and rooftop snipers watched over a second group of protesters behind a barricade when the royal couple arrived for a cooking class.

Britain conquered the former French colony of Quebec in 1763, but its culture and language survived, and today it is a bastion of French culture in North America.

British rule, however, still evokes resentment in some quarters of the Canadian province.

The first of Saturday's demonstrations was organized by a group rattling for the defense of the French language in North America.

Its president, Mario Beaulieu, told AFP the duke and duchess's visit "raises the issue of francophone assimilation," as well as "the linguistic purging of Quebec, in which the Canadian government is complicit."

The monarchy "is an obsolete institution, anti-democratic and sexist, and Quebec wants none of it," he added.

As a member of the Commonwealth, Canada's official head of state is the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by a governor general.

But a poll released on the eve of William and Kate's visit found that a third of Canadians want to cut ties with the British monarchy.

In Quebec, where 83 percent of the population speaks French and only 10 percent speak English, disaffection with the royals runs as high as 60 percent, according to the Angus Reid survey.

Quebec twice rejected independence in referendums in 1980 and 1995, the last time by a narrow margin.

Separatists would like to hold a third vote, but recent infighting has marred their organization.

Prince William, second in line to the British throne, and his wife celebrated Canada Day among hundreds of thousands of adoring fans in Ottawa, with fireworks and musical performances on Friday.

The duchess of Cambridge smiled broadly and exchanged polite banter as she shook hands with the crowd for longer than the intended hour.

The Quebec leg of their trip, however, includes no major public events, apparently an attempt to reduce possible confrontations with anti-monarchists or separatists like the one that embarrassed William's father, Prince Charles, when he visited in 2009.

Quebec separatists clashed with riot police outside an army hall at the time, delaying the arrival of the prince of Wales.

William and Kate were scheduled to sail aboard a navy frigate to Quebec City for a tour on Sunday of the historic fortified quarter known as the Citadel.

There, the couple will also meet with members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, the most famous francophone unit in the Canadian Forces, and face more protests called for by the the Quebec nationalist group RRQ.

William and Catherine are very likable, the group's Patrick Bourgeois said, but are being used by Ottawa to give the world a false impression that Quebec's separatist movement has faded away and its members now accept being part of a Canadian federation dominated by Anglo-Saxons.

Earlier Saturday, the couple planted a ceremonial tree at the Ottawa residence of the governor general symbolizing their everlasting "love and marriage" and unveiled a massive painting at the Canadian War Museum.

From Montreal and Quebec City, they will move on to Charlottetown for rescue trials aboard a sea helicopter, to Yellowknife for aboriginal sports and to Calgary for a rodeo.

© 2011 AFP

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