Policing the royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be a balancing act that will be on almost continuous display over the nine-day Canadian tour, which gets underway on Thursday. As part of security preparations for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, a British police officer is shown inspecting tubes to be used to built a scaffolded stage reserved for media, outside the Westminster Abbey, in central London, Tuesday, April 26, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lefteris Pitarakis
OTTAWA - When the Queen visited Toronto last summer, a middle-aged woman in a red dress breached security and made a beeline for Her Majesty.
She presented the smiling sovereign with a small black plastic bag. It contained nothing sinister —just a tea towel bearing the likeness of St. James.
Protective forces were well aware of the interloper, assessed the situation correctly and allowed the spontaneous encounter to run its course.
The vignette illustrates the delicate art of policing a royal visit — a balancing act that will be on almost continuous display over the nine-day Canadian tour of the recently wedded Prince William and Kate, which gets underway on Thursday.
The various events in four provinces and the Northwest Territories will see the usual mix of security concerns compete with an excited public's desire for a close encounter with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, whose popularity is drawing comparisons with Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Their public appearances, whether waving to the Canada Day crowd on Parliament Hill or taking part in a session of the youth parliament in Yellowknife, will be choreographed and timed almost to the minute.
"In one sense, the security dimensions of these things do mean a lot is now scripted," said Jez Littlewood, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa.
At the same time, he added, no system is foolproof — as last year's trinket presentation reminded Canadians. "And certainly the Royal Family does not want to be seen as if there's some big, physical barrier of security personnel between it and the population."
As with any large-scale public event, a team led by the RCMP will plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Heritage Minister James Moore, whose department will shepherd the royal visitors, said he hopes "all the necessary security" doesn't interfere with public enjoyment.
"If I had security intelligence I wouldn't be sharing it, but I can tell you that all the appropriate agencies and forces have been engaged, proper assessments have been done, and we look forward to having a very peaceful and secure visit," Moore told a recent briefing.
The royal tour includes several events, including Canada Day celebrations and the Calgary Stampede, that were already slated to take place — meaning the advantage of an existing layer of security and the disadvantage of large crowds to manage.
The Mounties have participated in royal processions since 1897, when the RCMP's forerunner, the North-West Mounted Police, assisted with Queen Victoria's Jubilee. The force, working with local police services, will be responsible for security at all visit sites as well as motorcades, bodyguards, operational support and co-ordination of intelligence and investigations.
The British High Commission declined to comment Tuesday on the preparations, saying Canada has sole jurisdiction over security arrangements.
A declassified assessment, though heavily redacted, shows Canadian intelligence officials were mindful last year of the dangers posed by Islamic terrorists on the eve of an April visit to Atlantic Canada by Princess Anne, the Queen's only daughter.
"A direct threat" from al-Qaida and its affiliates "continues to exist" for Canada and its interests, it noted.
The spectre of Muslim extremism cannot be ignored, said Littlewood, a former adviser to the counter-proliferation department of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
"It has to be factored into any security considerations, just by the fact that a royal visit presents a symbolic target."
But Littlewood considers an attack by al-Qaida or one of its devotees as unlikely, given that the movement "risks a very, very real backlash" for such a brazen move.
"It's likely to be detrimental for the group rather than beneficial."
The most visible question marks in advance of the couple's visit are possible demonstrations by animal-rights activists opposed to the Calgary Stampede and a planned Quebec City protest against the monarchy by about 300 members of the little-known Quebec Resistance Network.
Still, organizers of the Quebec rally have hired about 40 security guards to ensure their own event doesn't get out of hand.
Moore suggested officials were taking the prospect of vocal anti-monarchist sentiment — and even public protests — in stride.
"It happened when Prince Charles was here 18 months ago, it was a reality last year when Queen Elizabeth II came and it'll be certainly a reality when the duke and duchess are here. It's not new," Moore said.
"It's part of Canada's fabric just to have these ongoing debates and it's fine, so long as they're respectful — and I have no reason to expect that that won't be the case."