Prince Charles’s visit to Montreal Tuesday was met with anger by Quebec sovereignty activists, who said they had no intention of letting “monarchist passéisme [traditionalism] invade [Montreal] with impunity.”
By 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, several hundred protesters had assembled on the sidewalk across from the Black Watch armoury, where the royal couple was expected. Under Quebec, Acadian, and even French flags, sovereignty activists chanted slogans denouncing the monarchy, Ottawa, and the Quebec premier, Jean Charest.
The guests entered the armoury of Montreal’s oldest Scottish regiment, wearing poppies on their lapels. Many of the visitors seemed confused by the protest, but chose not to comment. Michel Boire, a Black Watch veteran who served for 43 years, was the master of ceremonies and conciliator for the evening.
“Our soldiers in Afghanistan are fighting to preserve these protesters’ liberty of expression. They’re my fellow citizens and I’m happy they can express their opinions. That’s democracy,” Boire said.
Asked about the appropriateness of a foreign prince being welcomed like a military leader, Boire pointed out that Charles is the Canadian regiment’s colonel-in-chief.
“Don’t forget that his mother is our head of state,” he added.
On the other side of the street, spirits were heated. Some wanted to pick a fight. Word spread quickly that, “at 5 p.m., we’re crossing.” Three to four hundred protestors eventually moved as a block to take Bleury, which was soon closed to traffic.
The prince was expected shortly after 5 p.m., but the mass of protesters blocked his arrival. When an officer of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal tried to address the crowd, the crowd’s boos stifled his voice. Protestors threw eggs and other projectiles forcing the officer to take refuge inside the armoury.
It soon became clear that the anti-riot squad were coming. The protesters, more determined than before to demand “democracy for Quebec,” energetically proclaimed, “le Québec, un pays.”
Despite the arrival of the anti-riot squad, the protesters sat down in the middle of the street. One of the leaders told the press, “We’ve folded too much already; we’ll move no more!”
After the police had arrested three people, the crowd was pushed back 200 metres to permit Prince Charles’s arrival, through a concealed door, 45 minutes late.
When asked about their demands, the protesters first evoked their “disgust for a foreign, imperialist monarchy that has nothing to do in this country.”
Responding to the idea that the royal couple are only symbolic, Patrick Bourgeois, president of the Réseau de resistance du Québec (RRQ) and senior editor at the sovereigntist paper Le Québécois, said, megaphone in hand, “In national liberation struggles, symbols are fundamental.”
One of those symbols, according to protesters, is the 1775 deportation of 12,500 Acadians by the British government, which left between 7,500 and 9,000 Acadians dead. This event is called “le Grand Dérangement” by Acadians.
“Those people have blood on their hands,” said Michelle, a woman in her sixties, who, like others, was incensed by the monarchy’s refusal to apologize.
Suzanne Morton, a specialist in Canadian history at McGill, confirmed that even if they’re very difficult to quantify, these figures correspond to those generally agreed upon by historians. She pointed out, however, that a 2003 royal proclamation recognized the Crown’s errors.
The other most commonly heard grievance Tuesday was the “theft of the 1995 referendum.” Allegations of fraud surrounded the vote, but Morton said, “Investigations took place. The debate is over.”
Some protests commented that the event was a success because it allowed the RRQ and other sovereigntist groups to measure the level of mobilization. They felt this will be important as the battle against Law 104, on the presence of English in Quebec, begins to intensify.
—translated from French by William M. Burton