Royal visit meets opposition
Montreal - Hardline separatists plan to protest Prince William and Kate Middleton's visit to Quebec next month, saying the future British monarch symbolises Canadian federalism and Anglo-Saxon dominance.
The separatist Quebecois Network of Resistance (RRQ) plans to organise a rally at noon on Sunday, July 3 at the Quebec City Hall, using the slogan "William, Get Lost!" as its rallying cry.
The protest is expected to coincide with the royal couple attending a ceremony intended to showcase the relationship between the Royal 22nd Regiment, Canada's best-known Francophone military regiment, and Quebec City.
"If Prince William and Princess Catherine want to come to Quebec as British citizens for a honeymoon they pay for themselves, we don't have a problem with it," RRQ leader Patrick Bourgeois told AFP.
"But if they come at the invitation of the Canadian federal government, which wants to offend and humiliate Quebec separatists, we will be there."
Bourgeois sees Prince William's visit as a purely political operation designed by the federal government to show the world that Quebec knows its place within Canada.
He is seeking a repeat of 2009, when demonstrations forced a visiting Prince Charles - Prince William's father - to enter a military barracks in downtown Montreal by the back door.
Years before, on October 10, 1964, police armed with nightsticks charged a crowd of students and separatists protesting Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Quebec in an incident remembered as "Truncheon Saturday."
Quebec and most of the Lawrence River area was occupied by French colonisers starting in the 16th century. Britain, which had colonies further south, disputed the French control.
After several conflicts, many fought with help from their respective Indian allies, Britain wrested control of the region from France in the 1763 Treaty of Paris at the end of the Seven Years' War.
Queen is formal head of state
Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth, has been independent since the 1930s even though Queen Elizabeth II remains the formal head of state.
Referendums for an independent Quebec were held twice, in 1980 and 1995, and separatists lost each time, although by a very narrow margin in the latest round. Though weakened by its defeat at the polls and internal fighting, the separatist movement is still hoping for a third chance with voters.
According to opinion polls, two thirds of Canadians would like to break institutional links with the British crown.
The British royalty, however, has ardent supporters of its own, represented by the Monarchist League of Canada, which claims 10 000 members, including 500 in Quebec, said provincial spokesperson Etienne Boisvert.
Boisvert, whose French ancestors arrived in Quebec in the 16th and 17th centuries, conceded that France and Britain have a history of difficult ties.
But, he said, it was the British who "brought a parliamentary system of government, democracy and the doctrine of individual rights to North America."
He called the monarchy a "feudal institution that knew how to reinvent itself."
And the fact that the queen lives 4 000 kilometres away is not a concern for him, as she is represented in Canada by the governor general, David Lloyd Johnston.
In monarchist circles, people have proposed making a member of the royal family head each one of the 16 Commonwealth realms.
"Prince Harry, who has virtually no chance of becoming king, could set himself up here and found a Canadian branch of the monarchy," Boisvert speculated. "Or the future king could rotate - six months in Canada, six in Australia, six in London."