Flying eggs, pro-Quebec slogans greet Charles
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:13PM EST
MONTREAL - Scores of slogan-chanting supporters of Quebec independence blasted the British monarchy and pelted soldiers with eggs in a lone sour note to Prince Charles' otherwise pleasant day trip to Quebec on Tuesday.
Chanting a variety of political messages including the famous independence call, "Le Quebec aux Quebecois," about 200 demonstrators initially blocked the prince's path into an event where he was to salute members of a historic regiment.
Shield- and baton-wielding riot police eventually moved into the crowd, shoving protesters back hundreds of metres to clear a path for Charles' motorcade.
Police arrested three people for road-safety violations when they failed to move along after being asked to do so by an officer. They were issued a fine and then freed. They will not face criminal charges.
The nosy anti-monarchy crowd was the biggest of the day for the prince, who drew small but enthusiastic gatherings at earlier events throughout the day.
Even the protest itself was cordial at times: despite all the shouted swear words and crude hand gestures, some in the crowd graciously picked up debris and handed it over to police for safe disposal.
Most demonstrators either waved Fleur-de-lis flags or brandished signs with slogans such as Down With the Monarchy as they gathered outside the building housing the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada.
A few pelted eggs in the soldiers' direction. Some sat in the middle of the street chanting as members of the Montreal police riot squad moved in.
The protest delayed the prince's scheduled arrival for 45 minutes, but Charles eventually made it in.
The prince joked about the delay to his audience when he finally arrived to give the regiment its new colours.
"I just want to say how very sorry my wife and I are to have kept you waiting so long," he said. "I fear there was a notable little disturbance."
Patrick Bourgeois, one of the protesters, said outside the armoury that the British monarchy has exploited people all over world and that Quebec is no exception.
The symbol of the monarchy has been resented by many French-Canadians for centuries, and Bourgeois and others said members of the Royal Family had no business being in Quebec.
Bourgeois also linked the prince's visit with the military mission in Afghanistan which features British and Canadian soldiers.
"Quebec is against the war in Afghanistan," said Bourgeois, a member of the pro-independence Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois.
"And now it's our chance to pass that message to Prince Charles and many people across Canada."
The heir to the throne commented on the toll taken by the war in Afghanistan when he addressed the troops, noting the death of one member of the regiment, Cpl. Jason Warren. He was killed in July 2006 when a suicide bomber rammed his armoured vehicle with a carload of explosives.
"With both my sons serving in the armed forces, and one of them having served in Afghanistan, I know only too well the constant nagging anxiety which permeates your life when a loved one is placed in harm's way, particularly during deployment overseas," Charles said.
"To all the families gathered here this evening I want to say publicly, and with all my heart, thank you for the crucial love and understanding you provide to those who have chosen to serve us all and defend those things we hold dear."
Earlier in the day, Charles and his wife -- Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall -- faced a friendlier audience when they met with Premier Jean Charest and his wife, Michele Dionne.
In his fluent French, Charles thanked the premier for the gift of an Inuit sculpture and a collection of Quebec films on DVD. Charest pointed to one film in particular -- "La Grande seduction" -- as his favourite. The film is about a small remote Quebec community trying to get a doctor.
A heavy police presence geared up to ensure the royal couple's safety. Several dozen cops on motorcycles and foot rolled in to stand guard outside Charest's office.
But the crowd outside consisted almost exclusively of well-wishers and star-gazers. Several dozen people, many of them toting cameras, excitedly waited outside in anticipation of snapping a photo of the arriving couple.
They cheered heartily when they arrived.
"I'm here to see the show -- that's all," said Claudine Lefort, who works up the street at McGill University. She was walking by on her lunch break and decided to wait for the visitors.
There was one lone protester at the first event: one man, holding up a Quebec flag, with a T-shirt that said: Quebec Un Pays (Quebec A Country). He got into a heated exchange with a journalist from Toronto when the reporter tried asking questions in English -- and he refused to answer.
The couple's Montreal activities included a trip to the Cirque du soleil headquarters where they attended a brief performance by acrobats, and an ecological centre where they saw a simulated rain forest and frigid habitat for penguins.
The Royal Family began the day at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, where they slept the previous night.
Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean offered them a glimpse of the normalcy she strives for at her residence. Charles commented on seeing Jean's husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, walking the dog that morning.
Jean, who wore a light blue wool suit, confided in the Prince that she sends her daughter Marie-Eden to public school in the area. The two met together for a half-hour with their spouses in Jean's personal office.
Later, the royal couple met Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen in the sunlit, large drawing room at Rideau Hall.
Four Canadian Rangers stood guard in their trademark red sweaters as the two couples chatted. There are 4,200 rangers in Canada, who help watch over some of the country's most remote northern communities. They are often aboriginals who respond to local disasters.
Harper handed the prince two Ranger caps and sweatshirts for his sons.
"Your Highness, as you know we're very proud of our rangers and our rangers program . . . a great group of people who patrol our vast Arctic territory," Harper said.
"Princes William and Harry are becoming honorary members, so we present this to you as a symbol of their honorary membership."
"I hope they fit," the prince chuckled.
"One-size fits all," Laureen Harper replied.
The prince later met Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. The two posed before a phalanx of photographers in the drawing room.
The royal tour is scheduled to be in Petawawa, Ont., and Ottawa on Wednesday for Remembrance Day ceremonies.