January 21, 2019 2:59 pm
Updated: January 23, 2019 11:54 am

Montreal’s Italian community speaks out after PICAI classes cancelled

WATCH: PICAI has been part of Montreal's Italian community for over 50 years, but a lack of funding may cancel its language and cultural programs. As Global's Laura Casella finds out, many are rallying to save the organization.

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A group of Montreal parents is speaking out after they were recently informed that Italian culture and language courses offered through PICAI, or Patronato Italo-Canadese Assistenza Agli Immigranti, have been cancelled.

“Jan. 7, I received an email — the week that the kids were supposed to return after winter break — saying that classes were suspended because funds never were received from the Italian government,” said Leonilda Taddeo, a mother of two registered for classes with PICAI.

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Taddeo joined Global’s Laura Casella on Global News Morning to explain how many are rallying to save PICAI, which has been part of Montreal’s Italian community for over 50 years.

READ MORE: The secret recipe behind a 50-year-old bakery in Montreal’s Little Italy

After waiting a day and hearing nothing further, Taddeo said she decided to contact other PICAI parents via Facebook.

In addition to a Facebook group started by Alex Romanelli, the parents also started a petition to raise funds to staff teachers and rent locations for PICAI courses.

Petition to save PICAI.

“We have a petition out there right now… we’re trying to (get) 3,000 signatures and we’re just basically tweeting and Instagramming as many people as we can to get the message out there,” says Taddeo.

“We need these funds to be reinstated from the Italian government.”

READ MORE: Casa d’Italia, iconic Little Italy landmark in dire need of financial help

She says funding for PICAI was promised by the Italian government back in February 2018.

Taddeo said PICAI told her that it was the outgoing Italian consular official who had made those funding promises last February.

According to Taddeo, the interim consul-general is now denying funding due to incorrect dealings and improper paperwork.

Taddeo says the group of PICAI parents has received no reassurance from the Italian consulate saying the papers will be looked over again to make sure these classes are reinstated.

“Meanwhile, the kids are basically suffering, waiting to go back to school,” she added.

In a statement, the Consulate of Italy in Montreal representative Lorenzo Solinas told Global News, according to their laws and procedures, in order to provide a contribution to public funds to the institutions promoting Italian courses abroad, they have to make sure previous funds were used properly.

“PICAI received public funds in 2017 and the review we are carrying on together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of their financial statements of that year has shown unfortunately some issues, which have prevented us to provide the contribution for 2018,” he said in the statement.

“The review is still going on and we sincerely hope that in the next few days it could end positively and we could proceed to the payment.”

Taddeo says she sent her children to PICAI to learn about Italian culture.

READ MORE: CAQ tries to soothe concerns over immigration and language in Montreal-North

“They learn about words and how to speak in Italian, yes, but it’s more about the culture, even just having those three, four hours where you’re really immersed in Italian culture and language,” she said.

Kids who graduate from PICAI get two credits that are recognized in the Quebec government.

“There are kids who would have been graduating this year who are just two credits shy,” she said. “They could have had those two credits, and that’s really not fair for them.”

READ MORE: New census numbers show Montreal to be Canada’s most trilingual city

Not only is the school’s shutdown unfair for the students, Taddeo says, but also to the teachers.

“A lot of them work for the pure love of it. It’s not that they get paid a huge salary, a lot of them do it for the love of the culture and for wanting to continue passing on this heritage of ours,” she added.

The group rallying behind PICAI continues to tweet and share the petition with the hope that someone will come forward and lend a hand on a larger scale.

“We have so many successful businesses in the Italian community that maybe someone could come forward and help us out also because we do want our culture and our heritage to continue,” said Taddeo.

“We don’t want the children to suffer for this.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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