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Dear RSC Members, Friends and Colleagues,

Despite the constraints of the pandemic the RSC has remained active and there are a number of developments to report.

Since April 14, 2020, when the RSC Task Force on COVID-19 met for the first time, the RSC has published two “Op Ed” pieces each week in the Globe and Mail. The RSC also produced 18 peer-reviewed Policy Briefings, and subsequently, as a result of our excellent partnership, several have been published in FACETS. In addition, two collections of essays have been released, and a new website has been launched featuring the response of artists to the pandemic.  

The task force is currently focusing on a number of themes that include excess deaths due to COVID-19, harm reduction, One Health, children and schools and the impacts of the pandemic on women in Canada. 

In collaboration with the Globe and Mail, the RSC has organised five town hall webinars on different aspects of COVID-19: The fifth “I’ve taken the vaccine: Now what?” was on June 2nd. These webinars were attended by more than 10,000 members of the general public from across the country. 

Given the success of these webinars we are currently in discussions with the Globe about presenting other webinars in the fall, to ensure that Canadians have access to independent expertise in areas of urgency beyond the pandemic. 

Once, again I extend my thanks to the Task Force Chair, Tom Marrie, the over 500 scholars who have contributed to this extraordinary collective effort, and to the team at Walter House for ensuring prompt report production, publication and dissemination. 

Unfortunately, those who engage in debate in the public arena may be subject to bullying, intimidation and other threats. These are serious challenges, so the RSC is assembling a team, under the leadership of Julia Wright, President of the Academy of Arts and Humanities, to develop a Policy Briefing on Protecting Public Advice

A number of the task force publications addressed different ways in which COVID-19 restrictions have impacted different facets of education, from kindergarten to the post-secondary level. During the pandemic it became clear that there are many different platforms for virtual learning that allow us to address some of these needs. However, there are limitations as many people, due to factors such as their financial situation or geographic location, have little or no access to such services, emphasizing the need to ensure that the appropriate services are available across Canada as we move forward. Furthermore, many of those with full access found the lack of face-to-face interactions with professors and classmates to be a negative experience, underlining the importance of having a suitable physical educational environment and the inestimable value of social interactions to our well-being.

While not related to the current pandemic the unfortunate events at Laurentian University underline how the loss of local opportunities can negatively affect those far from big urban centers, in this particular case, the indigenous and francophone communities in the region. Everyone living in this country has the right of meaningful access to education at all levels, and we must do more to dismantle the barriers that continue to limit the opportunities for members of under-served communities. As we move forward, it is essential that we work together, using the lessons learned during the pandemic, to ensure that Canada has a robust system that meets the needs, and supports the aspirations, of everyone.

Given our focus on building a better future and a better country, last month the RSC was delighted to announce a multi-year partnership with Let’s Talk Science. Our partnership started auspiciously with a virtual symposium on COVID-19. College President Karly Kehoe participated in the programme’s opening, and over 800 high school students from across Canada participated in the event. As we announce more aspects of the programming in the future, we look forward to hearing from RSC members keen to contribute to the successes of these initiatives.

As we move forward the RSC is using the successful model of the COVID 19 task force to address other pressing societal issues, such as climate change. We have already had five informed perspectives published in the Globe and Mail, including two for World Oceans Day. If you have ideas about possible topics please do not hesitate in contacting John Smol, President of the Academy of Science or Darren Gilmour.

The pace of our outward facing activities has not slowed the essential focus on the sine qua non of the RSC, which is to recognize outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievement. After 18 months of concerted focus on key issues of inclusive excellence, the Committee on Membership will be briefing Council over the summer with a view to submitting its final report in the fall. On behalf of the Council, I’d like to thank Marie D’Iorio, who has chaired the Committee, and her excellent team for their dedication to this activity so critical to achieving the aspirations of our strategic plan. 

We are really looking forward to further recognising different forms of excellence at our Celebration of Excellence and Engagement this fall. Planning for the 2021 COEE in partnership with McGill began shortly after last November’s extraordinary collaboration with the University of Toronto. The scientific programme will be published shortly, and will feature four symposia including the G7 Research Summit on Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Options for Canada. The COEE will also feature a special event on Friday, November 19, where we will acknowledge the “graduation” of the 80 inaugural members of the RSC College. 

I would like to thank the Board of Directors and Council, as well as Darren and the entire Walter House team, for it is due to their incredible dedication that we have been able to sustain our activities at such a high level and meet the goals of our current strategic plan. 

Earlier in the text I mentioned several times that a goal of the RSC is to contribute to a better Canada. However, the terrible news in Kamloops and the horrific violence in London have underlined the unacceptable continuation of racism in this country and the importance of looking frankly at our history and our public institutions while we work together to build a better future. On behalf of the RSC, I offer our sincere condolences to all those affected by these totally unacceptable acts. Clearly, we have a long way to go, and I urge you all to be ambassadors who actively work to ensure equity for every single person living in this country

Take care and stay safe.

Jeremy N. McNeil, C.M.; FRSC

RSC President