President’s Message

By / par Chris Wilson (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2022)

The summer is generally a quieter time for society business, as many of us take the opportunity for some vacation and to attend conferences and (dare I say it) do some research. Many of our committees do not meet unless something urgent comes up. The Board skipped its July meeting but had a productive meeting on August 17.

As a regular feature of these reports, I plan to provide a short summary on the steps that the Board is taking to improve and clarify CASCA procedures and governance, for itself, for its committees, and for the membership as a whole. Over the past 3 months, the Board has re-constituted its Action Items list and is starting to work its way through items systematically. There are a lot of items, many of them simple housekeeping, but everything takes some time and attention. The Vice-President and I are each circulating a written report to the Board ahead of the monthly Board meeting, so that the meetings themselves use less time for simple reporting of events and have more time for discussion. CASCA committee membership is now mostly complete, with just a few members remaining to be finalized for LCRIC and CATAC.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has been fairly quiet over the summer. We took the opportunity of the extensive media coverage around the JWST early images to send LRP2020 and a cover letter to about 40 ministers, staff, and department officials in July. As we do every year, we are working on a 2023 pre-budget submission, which is due October 8. When Parliament resumes Sept 19, I expect Coalition activities will ramp up; we had no meetings with government over the summer.

In TMT news, the National Science Foundation announced the beginning of the scoping process for the TMT project. To quote from an AAS email August 22, “The scoping process is a public comment period for identifying issues to be analyzed during the creation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and for consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to evaluate anticipated effects on historic properties on the summit of Maunakea, Hawaiʻi Island, Hawaiʻi. While the scoping process is a standard procedure for all NSF large facilities construction, NSF is also working to implement the community astronomy model outlined in the most recent decadal survey. To that end, NSF also invites the public to comment on NSF’s plans to engage the public in its EIS and Section 106 compliance processes through review of and comment on NSF’s Draft Community Engagement Plan.”

Other reports on progress with our major new initiatives (TMT, SKA, CASTOR, etc.) can be found elsewhere in this issue (or the 2022 Summer Solstice issue).

I want to close this article with a few thoughts on the subject of land and consent, a topic that is the focus of Recommendation #1 from LRP2020 and was the focus of a policy document that the LCRIC shared with the membership in advance of the May 2022 CASCA AGM. It is important to acknowledge my own settler background, as that background affects my perspective on this topic.

LRP Recommendation #1 states (in part): “We recommend that the Canadian astronomical community (e.g., ACURA, CASCA, and NRC-HAA) work together with Indigenous representatives and other relevant communities to develop and adopt a comprehensive set of guiding principles for the locations of astronomy facilities and associated infrastructure in which Canada participates. These principles should be centred on consent from the Indigenous Peoples and traditional title holders who would be affected by any astronomy project. “

In thinking about the topic of land and consent in the context of LRP Recommendation #1, probably the most important question that arises is who gives consent for a new facility to be built on Indigenous lands.

UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, gives the answer: Indigenous peoples and communities. This is admittedly a very general answer and does not attempt to answer questions such as: which Indigenous peoples and communities; who speaks for those Indigenous peoples and communities; what to do if there are disagreements between the groups who are asked to consent to a project; etc. But it is appropriate that UNDRIP does not address these details: it is up to the Indigenous peoples and communities to decide if and how they wish to give consent.

A secondary question that follows from the question “who gives consent” is who decides/judges/acknowledges that “free, prior, and informed consent” has been received from Indigenous peoples and communities for a new facility to be built on Indigenous lands.

In Canada, the act that established the National Research Council (NRC) mandated that NRC should “operate and administer any astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada”. So, for projects in which Canada is involved at a national level, the decision on whether consent has been given belongs with the Government of Canada and its agencies such as the NRC.

So you may ask, what is our role, as Canadian astronomers, in the process of land and consent? Personally, I feel that it is important that Canadian astronomers be reasonably confident that consent has been given for a new facility. This confidence helps to ensure that Canadian astronomers continue to support the facility that is being constructed. Confidence can be gained by educating ourselves: by reading reports and emails shared by the facility, by CASCA and its committees or by NRC; by attending informational webinars; by participating and asking questions; and so on. As a community (through CASCA and its committees, for example), we also have a role to play in working with Indigenous peoples and communities, as well as other organizations such as NRC, ACURA, etc., to help develop the guiding principles called for in LRP Recommendation #1. The policy document circulated by LCRIC in spring 2022 is an example of the type of work that is required from our community.

But ultimately it is not up to us as individual astronomers to make the call that consent has been given. We don’t have the necessary expertise (social, political, etc.) or resources. We don’t have the connections with the local Indigenous people and communities, certainly not for new telescope facilities that will be based in distant countries.

I think the important point is that we, the Canadian astronomical community, have said through LRP2020 Recommendation #1 that it is essential to obtain consent from Indigenous peoples and communities for new facilities that Canada is involved in. The Government of Canada, through NRC and other avenues, is taking this statement from our community very seriously in evaluating potential new national telescope facilities. Our role as individual Canadian astronomers is to stay informed about what is going on, to participate and ask questions, and to continue to educate ourselves.

Wishing you all a safe fall semester,
Chris

President’s Message

By / par Chris Wilson (CASCA Acting President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2022)

I would like to start this President’s report by welcoming the new members of the CASCA Board: Adam Muzzin as Vice President, Rob Cockcroft as Secretary, and Renee Hlozek and Karun Thanjavur as new Directors. Lewis Knee has been acclaimed to a second term as CASCA Treasurer, while Laura Parker and Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo are continuing in their third year as Directors. Thanks to all of you for being willing to serve! Thank you also to the outgoing Board members: Judith Irwin (Secretary), Ivana Damjanov (Director), and Etienne Artigau (Director). A special thank you to Erik Rosolowsky (Acting Vice-President) and Rob Thacker (Acting President) for stepping up to serve in these important CASCA roles last summer.

As those of you who attended the CASCA Business Meeting in May will know, I have agreed to step in to serve as CASCA Acting President for 2022-2023. Like Rob Thacker this past year, I am in this position under Bylaw 9.1, and will not be continuing in this position beyond the 2023 AGM. Thus, in 2023 we will look to elect a new President, as well as two new Directors. More information about the elections, including how to nominate someone or be nominated yourself, will be circulated later this year.

As I have been in the Acting President position for just over a month, this message will provide a short update on a few key areas. I plan to provide a more extensive discussion in my fall message, once I have had more time to review what the CASCA Board has on its “to do” list.

Coalition activities continue to focus on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), where things appear to be progressing well. The SKA is now one year into construction of SKA Phase 1 and continues to evolve rapidly. Canada’s scientists and engineers are participating in SKA through March 2023 via a co-operation agreement between NRC and the SKAO. To continue our leading role in SKA construction deliverables such as the SKA1-mid correlator will require the Canadian government to commit to construction and operations funding quite soon. Please refer to the excellent article by Kristine Spekkens for more information on the SKA.

Another important initiative that is gaining significant momentum is CASTOR, a Canadian-led optical-UV space telescope and the highest priority in space astronomy in the 2020 Long Range Plan (LRP2020). The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) held a virtual Canadian Space Exploration Workshop June 14-16, 2022, which I am sure many of you attended. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss ideas for Canadian space exploration over the next 30 years and will serve as input to CSA’s planning process.

The LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC) has continued their hard work over the past three months. They hosted a well-attended webinar on “Including Indigenous voices in astronomy education” at the end of March. They have drafted a very important policy paper on land and consent (LRP2020 Recommendation #1) as it relates to new astronomical facilities that has been circulated to the community and was presented and discussed in a special session at the CASCA AGM. Sharon Morsink has taken over as chair of LCRIC for 2022-23 and I look forward to working closely with her and the rest of the LCRIC as they work to move the societal recommendations from LRP2020 forward.

I hope everyone has a healthy and productive summer,

Chris

President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

On Some Difficult Questions for CASCA

I will centre myself often in this dialogue as identity matters, and I want to emphasize that I’m writing to encourage broader thought, these are obviously my personal views on how I believe organizations should function. I may ask some difficult questions, but they are meant to be general rather than focused, and to lead introspection.

That many of you may well find some of statements I make easier to be framed by me as a (hopefully perceived) compassionate and unthreatening white cis-gender man, also helps to position this dialogue. I’ve never considered myself an activist, but I am married to a person who is deaf, who has had to fight for so many things in their life that I can almost remember where the furrows on her brow come from. I also work with many colleagues who consider themselves activists. That simple statement about not seeing myself as an activist perhaps encapsulates my inherent whiteness, namely, to not see myself for what I am.

I wrote a President’s message in 2019 on the close proximity of CASCA to government, the high costs of the projects we are now involved in and the responsibility it places on our community. While one can argue Canada is normally a small player in major international projects, the reality is the size of those projects are becoming massive. I concluded that essay by saying “It’s one thing to say that knowledge from astronomy benefits everyone, but there’s a growing onus on astronomers to make connections that fulfil that promise.

How far have we come?

Each of you will have a different viewpoint and answer. That is the nature of community.

I’ve been asked why it was important to run the leadership panel this past November, and, other than the fact a promise was made to do that, I think it speaks to the fundamental value of dialogue. With CASCA being a (not-for-profit) corporation, ultimate authority and legal responsibility sits with the Board to determine what is appropriate. That said, I think with most of us being used to working in university collegial governance we would expect support for discussion over difficult topics, that is one of the key things universities are meant to do. However, we have a clear organizational dissonance right now, as the Letters Patent for the Society has a distinctly different flavour to a university act, which usually include statements around freedom and respect, for example. To be more explicit, we don’t have a Senate, we don’t have an Appeals Board, and multiple other structures. CASCA simply does not operate under the same principles as most universities.

What about when discussions get heated? Could we have “civility codes of conduct” to avoid offense and discomfort as distinct from equity-driven codes of conduct employed in conference environments? Obviously, this has been a major discussion on campuses for some time now. But despite our differences from a university structure, I strongly feel we should continue to follow CAUT guidelines to resist imposing any such legislation. David Robinson, CAUT Executive Director, has spoken extensively about how while a goal of civil and respectful dialogue is laudable, when policies are put in place to regulate speech and behaviour then free expression can be put at risk. These issues become most prominent during protest and dissent. CAUT usually highlights the 2014 Capilano University protest as an example where the creation of a statue was ruled as harassment of the university President, which in turn was seen as a clear violation of academic freedom and freedom of expression in a follow-on review.

To be clear: CASCA has a moral and legal obligation to ensure its operation is free from discrimination and harassment, but, at least in my view, we cannot enshrine an intrinsic right to never be offended or uncomfortable. As to the standard of this statute, that is a challenge, and one I will admit is very difficult to determine. Legally, we fall back to the reasonable and competent assessment, but from a social justice perspective that can be argued to be insufficient.

Consequently, as someone that works as a union Lead Negotiator, I am (personally) resistant to any policy which intimidates and silences by inappropriate methods of behaviour control that can be used to oppress, as the 2014 Capilano University case shows. Moreover, I wholly admit it is easy for me to say these things as someone that is implicitly a member of an empowered group and there are complicating factors, for example although many of our members have academic freedom, not all do. Arguments between individuals with academic freedom vs those without it can have an inherent imbalance. Please try to be mindful of this issue. Members of CASCA do not all have the same workplace rights.

Above all, I want to remind everyone that without questioning our values we can easily perpetuate dominant ideologies without being aware of it. There is no question that systemic white supremacy is pervasive within academia, even documents on diversity, which may have been written with good intentions, frequently centre whiteness as “normal.” Similarly, we’ve all seen the benefits of dual anonymous reviews in astronomy, we know biases are present.

This winter term I’ve been enrolled in a course “Indigenous Knowledges and Relations” co-taught by Michelle Paul and Benita Bunjun. One of the key questions we are asked as students is a moral one, namely: “Could you learn all the material in this course and still be someone that doesn’t value Indigenous Knowledges and actively works against them?” the answer is obviously that yes, you could. Why would someone? From self-interest, to systemic bias, to conscious racism we can name different possibilities. Education is but one part of a broader issue – indeed I’m currently working with Reconciliation Education to put this in place for the current and future CASCA Boards – but we have to fully process the moral and ethical questions that are implicit within that knowledge.

All of this discussion has been building to highlight one key fact about how we respond to ethical questions: it is ultimately an individual reaction. CASCA can make ethical statements about what it supports as a Society, but it is down to individual members to take those statements and incorporate them in their actions. Not everyone will come to same conclusions, we know that individuals in communities have different viewpoints. Nonetheless, I feel the single most important recommendation in the LRP is that every Canadian astronomer make a personal commitment to inclusion and reflect that in their personal ethics and values.

With that I call on everyone in the Society to be welcoming, generous and open. We are a community that is focused on education. When we argue, make it about learning, rather than mere winning.

Astronomy is important, but we don’t make the world a better place by discovering things about the universe. We make it a better place by truly sharing that discovery with all the people that make it possible, and working together with respect and true partnership.

Coalition Update

Over the past few months Coalition activities have focused strongly around the Square Kilometer Array. As many of you are aware the project continues to move ahead rapidly, please refer to the excellent updates being provided by Kristine Spekkens and the AACS. The cooperation agreement has been a great way to keep Canadian participation moving forward, but it is clear we need to signal a clear intent to the project to shift to full participation before the agreement ends in March 2023. With the agreement only having been signed last November it might seem unusual to have to be back discussing the issue with the Government so quickly, we are mindful of that issue!

I want to express a personal note of thanks to all the members of Coalition that have participated in the many meetings we’ve had in this first quarter. The community should be aware that some of our industry partners support the Coalition and participate in briefings despite not necessarily being involved in construction of a given project, in that sense the Coalition is a true partnership. That is an important and valuable interrelationship. However, I am most thankful to Kristine Spekkens for her amazing efforts in support of education around the SKA and contributions to discussions with key decision-makers.

I’m delighted to say that these meetings have gone well so far. We’ve been able to address many questions about the project and how it fits with several different Government priorities. I am hopeful that we will indeed see a commitment to the project in the time frame that the SKAO needs. It would be a tragedy if the cooperative agreement ended up becoming an off-ramp for our participation.

So long…

I will be stepping down as Interim President at the AGM as I need to lead what will likely be a very difficult negotiation for my fellow faculty members at SMU. As I write this message, I am quite literally minutes away from giving another faculty update. Juggling responsibilities since January has been a headache! Bylaw 9.1 allowed me to work in this position from last August until the next round of CASCA elections, and those will be soon upon us. We are diligently working to prepare a slate of nominations and I am happy to say we are over half-way there at this point, nominations will be presented soon.

I want to thank everyone in the Society for the conversations we’ve had over the past few months, and all the time and work you have committed to the Society, especially those serving on committees and/or the Board. I also thank our staff, Jessica and Don for all the great help they have provided, and Joanne for her continued work as Editor of Cassiopeia.

It has been an honour to serve you all.

My parting thought to each of you: Be gentle with yourself.

Rob

President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2021)

First off, I want to thank all the members of CASCA as well as staff that devote their time to the operation of the Society. We cannot function without you, CASCA exists largely on the back of volunteer labour. The sum total of our employed staff is about 1/40th that of the AAS, because quite frankly we don’t even add up to one full time staff member. Everything that you help accomplish is quite literally above and beyond!

This report is incomplete in that I had hoped to provide a more detailed update on some internal discussions and unfortunately because one meeting got pushed so close to the holiday break and that I need get approval on a couple of things, I will have to let that go until January. My apologies.

I want to wish you good health over the holiday season. I sincerely hope you can take time to replenish reserves and rejuvenate, at least to whatever extent is possible.

On High-Performance Computing and Sustainability

Forgive me the indulgence of talking about something that is close to my heart on two accounts, high performance computing and sustainability. Following detailed analyses of emissions in Australian astronomy [1], motivated by prior discussions [e.g., 2], I’ve heard a number of people express concerns about the energy cost of high-performance computing (HPC) in astronomy. While I cannot possibly suggest a complete strategy in a short discussion, I can at least outline some of the key concerns and provide some useful background. This is an opinion piece though, rather than a detailed analysis.

I will not spend any time talking about improvements in algorithms or software. I fully accept these are absolutely fundamental areas in which energy consumption improvements are possible. Indeed, we’re already witnessing a detailed discussion about this in astronomy [3]. A wider view of the whole issue across algorithms, software and hardware is already spurring detailed thinking within hardware design circles [4].

From the outset I think we need to be clear that energy usage isn’t a discussion that happens in isolation and draws on value judgments. If it were possible to build computing centres running entirely on renewable energy, then the actual energy usage might be considered moot. Indeed, this has become a strategy for countries (e.g., Scotland) to offer data centre companies access to renewable energy to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course, in practice such approaches disguise the fact that other energy usage continues to rely on traditional more polluting energy sources. After all, getting to “net-zero” means doing so across multiple sectors. Collective action is needed, and we have to play our part in that given the emissions intensive nature of our profession [2].

Global awareness of energy consumption in data centres and HPC is growing, many of you have likely heard concerns about Bitcoin’s incredible energy usage. That said, it is fair to say that there is a recognition of the potential impact of this demand, over the past 15 years there has been a steady interest in improving energy efficiency in computing. That’s been achieved through multiple approaches, but I’ll focus on just two: data centre design and chip/server design.

Starting with chip/server design, if we look at energy efficiency increases over several decades the results are quite staggering. Comparisons are normally provided going back to the earliest machines, but let’s consider a Cray-1, from the 1970s, arguably what many consider the first supercomputer. With a performance of 160 Mflops, and a power draw of 115kW, its flops per watt work out to 1400. To provide a comparison we need to consider entire systems including their multiple overheads. Fortunately, Dr Wu Feng has been pushing for these numbers for many years and is the custodian of the “Green500” alternative to the “Top500” list of supercomputers. The most efficiency systems available today achieve 39.4×109 flops per watt, albeit using hardware optimized for Linpack calculations (more on that in a moment). An improvement of 28 million in 50 years! For comparison, the peak speed of a single CPU die, and I think 48 core Fujitsu A64FX vector processor is the most apt comparison, has only increased by a factor of around 50,000 relative to the Cray-1.

This dramatic increase in hardware energy efficiency has resulted for multiple reasons. Firstly, for many years “Dennard Scaling” meant that each time circuitry was reduced in size by a factor of 0.7x, the overall power requirement would reduce by 50% (essentially power was proportional to the area of the transistor). This allowed CPU designers to increase frequencies for many years, but by around 2005 the scaling broke down due to fundamental issues with “leakage” of power through the transistor substrate. Thus, the era of increasing clocks speeds came to a halt.

Realizing that clock speeds could no longer increase, designers turned their efforts to packaging more cores on to a single die, not a trivial feat when one considers the memory design needed. Equally importantly, they also needed to begin improving the energy efficiency of individual CPU cores. Remarkably through a series of power management and packaging advances, the energy efficiency of CPUs has improved by a factor of at least 20 since 2014.

One could make a strong argument that since 2010, energy efficiency has become the key design parameter of CPUs, to a considerable extent replacing overall performance concerns. That’s definitely the case for mobile devices. Around 2011, HPC experts were widely discussing that being able to build exascale systems with a “reasonable” power draw of 20 MW would require achieving 50×109 flops per watt, the most power efficient systems are not far from this value today, but the largest machines are still a factor of three or four away.

While I’ve focused on CPUs, quietly hiding in the background is another potential revolution in efficiency, specifically the rapid development of customized hardware/accelerators. Smartphones are already moving toward more and more special accelerators with hardware designed for specific operations. We’ve all seen general purpose GPU programming take off, and optimized matrix hardware is now common – indeed it is a significant part of the improvement in flops per watt on the Linpack results for the Top500. All of these approaches improve energy efficiency by tailoring hardware to specific calculations. The rise of freely and easily available CPU instruction set architectures (RISC-V, for example) may lead to domain specific architecture becoming increasingly more common place than it is today.

The third factor that has helped improve flops per watt in HPC systems is optimized design of the cooling system and integrated system management. There are also well documented examples of waste heat being used for heating in some jurisdictions, to the point where papers have been written about which locations would be most appropriate for this approach to maximize the benefits of the exported heat. Data centres that are the “hidden” power behind the cloud use these kinds of optimizations extensively.

That 28 million improvement in energy efficiency since the 1970s also benefits our desktops. Modern processors, especially those based on mobile designs, have far lower idle power than those from even 2016. Unless you really need to do “big compute” or GPGPU on your desktop, you can buy a mini pc that idles at a handful of watts but with 8 cores has enough power to take on some pretty heavy calculations. And as always, turning things off is a good thing, although systems are getting better and better at doing that themselves.

While energy efficiency is clearly better in modern HPC systems, we do face the issue of unmet demand. Analyses can always be made more complex. Simulations can always be made bigger for better resolution. In practice, like any other facility, the amount of time is limited. For HPC, at least in Canada, we’ve also been limited by practical issues around power supply, I doubt we will ever see academic systems using much more than 5 MW here. Commercial data centres in Canada with close to ten times that power requirement already exist, although we need to put those in the context of serving large communities.

Astronomy is moving towards the increasing use of HPC as are multiple research areas. We have a duty to understand how that fits in the wider picture of sustainability (and I’m not even going to open the offset discussion). My own bias is that, among other things, we need to think carefully about:

  1. Quotas and envelopes. To a certain extent they will happen naturally with equipment maintained by the Alliance (formerly NDRIO/Compute Canada).
  2. Optimizing calculations by using the right tools – not always easy as there is inertia in individual knowledge and skills. To a limited extent review of HPC applications used to handle this, for more open access systems that may not be possible.
  3. Being aware of creating accidentally unsustainable situations. This happened with Compute Canada through the growth of the user base. The same thing could happen with interfaces that disguise overall computing use.

I have to have a somewhat optimistic view that ultimately, we will transition to largely renewable energy generation and that these concerns will become less significant. But until such time as we have a reasonable control on emissions, it’s important to remember that the energy usage of our field is fundamentally a value question.

Wishing you all a Happy Holidays and may you share many moments of joy with friends and loved ones,
Rob

[1] “The imperative to reduce carbon emissions in astronomy,” Stevens, A. R. H., et al, Nature Astronomy, 4, 843, (2020).
[2] “Astronomy in a Low-Carbon Future,” Matzner, C. D., et al., Astro-ph/1910.01272
[3] “The ecological impact of high-performance computing in astrophysics,”, Zwart, S. P., Nature Astronomy, 4, 819, (2020).
[4] “There’s plenty of room at the Top,” Leiserson, C., et al, Science, 368, 1, (2020).

President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)

Dear Members,

I’ll start by wishing you all well as the fall starts. There are a lot of nerves in the university community – trust me I know as Chief Negotiator for the Saint Mary’s Faculty Union – and I hope that you are able to work effectively with your own administrations to manage COVID-19 workplace concerns effectively.

While a message like this is inevitably quite arms-length, I sincerely hope you are all able to maintain your mental hygiene. While more and more workplaces are bringing in various support mechanisms along these lines, it can still be difficult to find time for this type of self-care when so many other tasks need to be done. I can certainly say I find it difficult, especially as the service part of my work has grown. Personally, one of the most useful things I have learned is how to avoid ruminating. If you are self-critical that can be quite a debilitating habit. I found this talk by Dr Guy Winch especially enlightening.

It has obviously been an extremely difficult summer for CASCA, but as I have indicated discussions are ongoing and I am optimistic that we seem to be moving forward. The end of August saw something of a pause on efforts as multiple people were out of the office until the start of term. I pass on my personal thanks to all those people that have taken time to talk with me, I have learned much. When trust breaks down it is difficult to quickly rebuild working relationships and as a society of volunteers, we rely immensely on labour that is provided for free. Moreover, those efforts are often provided in situations with limited authority and resources. Remember, the annual budget of CASCA is a fraction of a single faculty salary, compare that to CAUT which receives over $7m a year.

As a note, historically we have tended to not spend resources on Board member training so that we can distribute more funds for supporting conferences. As astronomy working practices are evolving so perhaps should our training expectations. With the past two AGMs functioning in virtual form the Society’s financial picture is relative stable and fees will remain flat again this year. We can thus see a potential for devoting a modest amount of funds towards this. The one challenge with this approach is that directors cycle-off on a 2-year timescale, so whatever is put in place can’t be a one-off situation. There are several resources around anti-racism, as well as other topics around inclusion, that I’ve witnessed used with other Boards quite effectively. Note, I am all too aware of “tick the box” criticisms through my union work, avoiding that is important. I’m not mentioning indigenous issues and reconciliation here as that is a very important issue for the Society which I will address on its own in a future message.

In terms of major civic issues impacting astronomy, by the time you read this we will know the outcome of the federal election. The surprise election of a conservative majority government in Nova Scotia is a stark reminder of the uncertainties of polls. To a certain extent the Coalition has prepared for a possible change of government, but there is only so much that can be done. The decision making and bureaucracy systems function at the will of the government, so we are anticipating an inevitable pause in interactions this fall, precisely how long is difficult to know. As a rough timeline, we can expect a new cabinet appointed by mid-October and Parliament to resume in November.

Rather than outlining summaries of the ongoing status of various projects, which are frequently described in more detail elsewhere in Cassiopeia, in this message I’m going to take some time to talk about the Society and what is expected of directors as well as the process by which directors are appointed.

Of course, research continues apace, and I pass on thanks to all the authors that have contributed to this edition of Cassiopeia. If I can just inject one suggestion, I encourage everyone to read Kristine Spekkens’ SKA update as a lot has been happening there. Joanne Rosvick gets another big thank you for her continued duty and diligence as editor of Cassiopeia!

And, of course, my thanks as always to those of you who continue to give your time to CASCA and to the upkeep of our wider community in general!

CASCA Office Update

I need to inform you all that our webmaster Don Hutton had a heart attack in August. He was given a stent, and while discharged after three days and back at work a few more days later, he tells me he is still tiring easily even if his cholesterol is now impressively low after a change in diet and some medication. While I appreciate that the vast majority of you will not have interacted with Don, I am sure the entire membership will join me in passing on our best wishes for a continued recovery.

Expected Duties of Directors

While a President’s report is perhaps not a great place to give a detailed breakdown of the expected duties of directors, I thought it might be prudent to outline what the typical expectations are. For CASCA, because our resources are comparatively limited compared to the number of members we have, we cannot afford to employ an Executive Director. Consequently, the Board must function perhaps more as a “management Board” than desired, arguably the role of Boards is really meant to be oversight and to a lesser extent strategic direction, among other things.

For not-for-profit boards, the generally accepted duties are as follows:

  1. Duty of Care: Directors have a duty of competence, namely the requirement to act with a certain level of skill in making decisions for the organization. The duty of care describes the level of attention required of a director, arguably one might consider it a “duty to be informed,” and to act with competence and diligence. The law doesn’t require directors to be experts, but it does expect that they act in accordance with a reasonable standard of care and to act responsibly to maintain such standards.
  2. Duty of Loyalty: Directors must act honestly and in good faith, in essence putting the best interests of the whole organization ahead of their own interests. The duty of loyalty is a personal duty of directors, it cannot be delegated to management, staff, or volunteers of the organization.
  3. Duty of Compliance (Obedience): An NFP corporation must follow applicable laws and regulations including its own bylaws. This essentially encapsulates that the organization must adhere to its stated corporate purposes in the Articles of Incorporation.

You can easily find many articles on the web that will define further legal duties, but these three high level requirements outline the key expectations of directors. Duty of Care is interesting in that the ultimate standard is that you show appropriate diligence in your role as director. Attending meetings, for example, is considered one of the parts of this requirement. Note I will say upfront that since we transitioned to monthly meetings on top of the longer quarterly meetings it has proven to be a challenge to find slots that work for everyone. Navigating four time zones across nine people each with difficult teaching schedules can be a struggle.

Duty of Loyalty encapsulates all the conflict of interest concerns we often worry about. It is perhaps the most straightforward expectation, but it can be difficult to meet. We may often not appreciate our own biases, for example. Duty of Compliance is straightforwardly understood.

Some of you may have guessed that I have an ulterior motive for the above few passages. Specifically, next year will be a significant one in terms of elections. Moreover, that process actually has to start surprisingly soon. So, I’ll finish this update with an important discussion of the upcoming elections and the bylaw processes that need to be followed.

2022 AGM Board Elections

One of the roles of the Past President is to organize nominations for the upcoming elections as Chair of the Nominations Committee. I had been looking at this with some trepidation, as for 2022 we have a significant slate of positions to fill on the Board. No less than four officer position and two director positions are potentially up for election as both the Secretary and Treasurer have the choice to offer for a second term.

The precise number of vacancies is determined not less than six months before the AGM, and for this year, November 15th is the latest date. I can say upfront that both myself and Erik, as Acting President & Interim Vice President respectively, will not be continuing beyond the AGM, as we are both in these positions under bylaw 9.1, which allows for emergency actions as needed but only until the next election cycle. Thus, both the Presidency and Vice Presidency must be filled by election in 2022. In case anyone is wondering about the normal succession process of the Vice President becoming the President, that is a policy rather than a bylaw. The bylaws themselves state clearly that office of the President is a position that is elected, in practice the succession approach means we have filled it via acclamation (this point has been emphasized at recent business meetings).

In the recent past, the Nominations Committee has frequently had to canvas people in the community and to generate nominations by that process. While always conducted, IMHO, in a spirit of openness, nonetheless the small size of the Nominations Committee has sometimes limited its awareness. I include myself in that criticism as a former member of the Nominations Committee.

With this in mind, I want to remind the community of the full process of nominations is outlined in the Society bylaws. In terms of eligibility, bylaw 5.2.1 states that directors must be ordinary members of the Society, which means those individuals that have either graduated from a PhD or been granted ordinary membership status. Bylaw 5.2.4 then outlines the Secretary puts out a call for nominations six months before the AGM, and nominations must be supported by five members eligible to vote. The role of the Nominations Committee is essentially to prepare a list of candidates and ensure consent of said individuals.

The remainder of the bylaw describes that members should be informed of the list of candidates at least 60 days before the AGM, although candidates can actually continue to be added up to 40 days before the election date. Note, some of bylaw 5.2.4 is archaic in places, in that we have moved to electronic voting, but the meaning is sufficiently clear it is not problematic. It could be changed, but it’s worth remembering every bylaw change must be filed with Corporations Canada so it is not as trivial as just changing a word document.

OK, I hope that clears up the precise nomination process. If anyone has any questions, you are of course welcome to ask myself, or Judith Irwin the society Secretary.

Wishing every one of you a safe and productive fall,

Rob

IAU and short update

Dear CASCA Members,

Just a short update on a couple of issues: First of all, the online IAU
XXXI General Assembly (GA) Business Sessions are taking place over the
coming 10 days in an online format. While I will attend the primary
business sessions on behalf of the Canadian community, I thought I would
bring to everyone’s attention that on Tuesday 24 August, 15:00 CEST,
there will be a session to discuss the new IAU Resolutions to be voted
on electronically by Individual and Junior Members, between 26 August
and 10 September 2021. The Resolutions are as follows:

  • Resolution B1 in support of the protection of geodetic radio
    astronomy against radio frequency interference
  • Resolution B2 on the improvement of the Earth’s rotation theories
    and models
  • Resolution B3 on the Gaia Celestial Reference Frame
  • Resolution B4 on the use of a standard photometric system in
    ultraviolet (UV) astronomy

Secondly, I have had a small number of emails asking for further
information around the ongoing societal issues around the resignations.
As I noted in the original Board response, I am bound by confidentiality
at this time and I am absolutely sure none of you want me to commit an
ethical breach at this point. As President in a difficult situation, I
take my duty of care to all members of the society very seriously and I
want to reiterate my genuine request that people not speculate. Although
we cannot openly discuss events right now, that does not mean things are
not happening, and I can say I think we’ve made some positive steps over
the past few days. However, I caution that getting to a point where more
details can be discussed openly will take time. It is the end of the
summer and many people are on much needed holidays.

Thank you all for your patience and understanding, and I’d like to wish
you all well for the upcoming semester,

Rob

Board Response to Resignations of CASCA President and Vice-President

Dear Members,

By now I expect you have read the resignation statement of our President, Sara Ellison, and the Vice-President Samar Safi-Harb.

This is a heavy blow for our Society. I’m sure you all join me in an expression of heartfelt thanks to both Sara and Samar for their service to the Society and community over the last 15 months. I know that choosing to resign was exceptionally difficult for both of them, and I ask everyone to be respectful and empathic of their choice.

I am sure many of you have questions about the precise reasons for their resignations beyond the general outline provided by Sara and Samar. Unfortunately, the primary issue is a confidential one which, at least at present, the Board cannot discuss in detail. I respectfully request that members refrain from making any assumptions or engaging in speculation. The Board asks for your patience until we are in a better position to communicate the next steps for the Society.

The Board convened on August 3rd and following a discussion of the resignations, the Board asked if I would be prepared to be interim President until the next AGM under bylaw 9.1, and I have agreed to do so.

My first action has been to begin the search to find an interim Vice-President. The Board agreed on a list of individuals with prior Board experience that could assume the role quickly. Again, I’m sure you would all join me in providing sincere thanks to Erik Rosolowsky for agreeing to step-in. Thank you, Erik!

I promise to update the membership as soon as possible, but I want to caution that I am out of the office from the 4th to the 12th.

I want to end with an acknowledgment that the volunteer work done in the name of the Society is incredibly valued by the community at large. The volunteer work of the President and Vice President, in particular, has been generous to the point of self-sacrifice. Thank you again.

Sincerely,

Rob Thacker (Acting) President on behalf of the Board

Resignations of CASCA President and Vice President

Dear CASCA colleagues:

It is with sincere regret that we announce our resignation from the CASCA Board.

As President and Vice-President, we felt truly privileged and honoured to serve our Society and its mission, and we thank you for giving us the opportunity to be part of this journey.

The Board’s dedication and service to the community is truly immeasurable, and our appreciation for the Board’s incredible service to the community has only exponentially intensified this past year. It’s been a pleasure to work with every single member of the Board.

Our guiding core values are empathy, kindness, integrity, enthusiasm and inclusion of diverse perspectives. Given recent events around the latest AGM and how it unfolded, we both observed and personally went through negative experiences from outside the Board that are in conflict with our values. Upon deep and careful reflection, we came to realize that these values would be more effective and beneficial to activities outside of our CASCA leadership role.

The decision to step down has been an incredibly difficult and painful one for us to reach. So we convey this news to you with a very heavy heart, kindly asking for your understanding.

Thank you for putting your trust in us. We remain dedicated members of CASCA. We will do our best to assist the Board during the transition. We look forward to continuing to work with many of you, our fellow astronomy colleagues, on the science and society matters that make us tick.

Sincerely,

Sara Ellison and Samar Safi-Harb

President’s Message

By Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

On June 10, the CASCA Board published a statement regarding the recent confirmation of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Reservation School. This news has been the latest heart-breaking reminder of Canada’s long history of colonial atrocities. To the full CASCA Board statement (English; and French), I add my personal thoughts and prayers to those in grief and pain, to the communities and families who have lost loved ones, and to the Indigenous members in our Society. I encourage our Society members to reach out to your Indigenous colleagues and friends in their time of sorrow.

Addressing inequity, bias and racism is a recurrent theme in CASCA’s Long Range Plan 2020. Despite its infancy, the first steps in this broad-reaching decadal initiative have now begun. As I described at the recent AGM, we have a new implementation and oversight structure that convenes the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC; welcome to Will Percival as the new Chair), the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA), the LRP Community Recommendations Committee (LCRIC) and the CASCA Board. The Chairs of these committees have already begun regular communication over the coordination and tracking of LRP progress. Discussions with other CASCA committees will also ramp up over the coming months as we mobilize towards working on the recommendations in our charge. I refer you to the LCRIC update in this newsletter for more information on community updates. On the dissemination front, I can report that the hard copies of the LRP have been received by both the ACURA office and at Temple Scott Associates for distribution amongst our university and external contacts. However, with tele-working still in place for the vast majority of workers in Ottawa, as well as many universities, it is anticipated that the final delivery will be made in the Fall once people return to their offices and are receiving mail (major stakeholders have been previously sent electronic versions).

CASCA 2021 attracted a record number of attendees – some 500 strong from across the astronomical community. This year’s AGM additionally broke new ground for the Society with an unprecedentedly broad scope in its sessions, including an Indigenous cultural awareness session by Bob Joseph, and keynote presentations by Ninan Abraham and Astrid Eichorn on academic racism and the carbon footprint of research in the EDI and Sustainability sessions. The feedback we have received on these sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and sends a clear message that our annual gathering should be a place where we meet to not only discuss science, but also where we consider our place in an equitable and responsible society. CASCA 2022 (“Canadian Astronomy in the Roaring 2020s”) will again break new ground, as the Society’s first hybrid meeting, with the in-person component taking place at the University of Waterloo (LOC Chair: Will Percival). In case you missed it, the video invitation to CASCA 2022 (May 10-16) presented at the end of this year’s AGM can be found here. Those who attend CASCA 2022 in-person will be able to pick up a hard copy of the LRP!

The #1 ranked space facility in the LRP is the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR). As reported at the AGM, and in the dedicated article in this issue, CASTOR continues to make steady progress and gather momentum under the Canadian scientific leadership of Pat Côté and John Hutchings. A significant ramp-up in activity (both development work and promotional efforts) is expected in the latter half of 2021.

CSA is funding an extensive technical contract for CASTOR that will run until May 2023 and have also have approved a Phase 0 study to begin later this year that will run concurrently. Taken together, these studies will allow CASTOR to move to flight development, once the mission is approved and funded by the government. International partners continue to work closely with the CASTOR team: JPL have demonstrated their support by approving technical work using internal funds, the UK group have offered detector testing as part of the STDP work and the partnership with India through ISRO continues to develop, albeit with some COVID-induced delays. ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy are being kept up to date with developments so that they are briefed for engagement within universities and in Ottawa.

In ground-based priorities, the SKA project continues to progress rapidly in anticipation of the start of its construction phase. Since the SKA update at the AGM, China has ratified the SKA Observatory (SKAO) treaty convention to become the 7th Full Member, France has announced that it will accede to the SKAO, and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a cooperation agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the Observatory. As you are all aware, the SKA was not listed explicitly in the Federal budget that was announced on April 19, and Canada is now relegated to `observer’ status, with no involvement in the governance of the project. As described by the Canadian SKA Science Director, Kristine Spekkens, at our recent AGM, there is a pressing need for commitment by the end of this month if we are to avoid the loss of our provisional industry contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars. Lobbying for SKA has been the primary activity of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy in the last year. Our most recent meeting took place in late May with a senior Policy Advisor from Minister Champagne’s office. This is the first time that the Coalition has been able to secure a meeting with the Minister’s office since Francois Phillippe Champagne took over from Navdeep Bains as Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry in January 2021. Through a variety of communication channels, the government is fully briefed on the SKA and are aware of the project’s timelines and the stakes if we do not commit imminently.

In other news from Ottawa, on May 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a private members motion from former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan that will create a permanent House Committee on Science and Research. However, the Committee will not be created until the next Parliament (i.e. after the next federal election). Speculation for an upcoming election is buzzing around the capital. The Government’s legislation to implement the 2021 budget (Bill C-30) has been studied at Committee in the House and the Senate, and efforts are now underway to get it passed before the mid-June summer recess. Passing that legislation is generally considered an imperative if the Liberals want to call an election for the fall. Once Parliament recesses for summer, it is not due to resume until September 20 – and that is assuming an election is not called before then. However, as perhaps the clearest signal yet that a 2021 election is likely, all parties agreed to a motion allowing MPs not running again to give their farewell addresses in the House on June 15. The Liberals also invoked their “electoral urgency” clause regarding riding nominations. Without Parliament sitting, the only means for the Liberals to trigger an election before September 20 is for the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General (or acting Governor General) to dissolve Parliament. That request would almost certainly be granted. Finally, the House of Commons Finance Committee has launched its annual pre-budget consultation, with submissions due on August 6. As we do every year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will make a submission to this call.

President’s Message

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Happy 50th Birthday CASCA! Yes, 2021 is a special year for CASCA, as we mark our half century as a Society. For those interested in a potted history of the Society, a short summary of the background leading up to CASCA’s founding, and its early years, can be found here.

The AGM offers the ideal (virtual) venue to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and several CASCA groups/committees are organizing commemorative activities. Gordon Walker (one of CASCA’s original charter members), will give a talk at the AGM banquet reflecting on 50 years of CASCA and Canadian astronomy. The AGM organizers are also inviting all charter members (many of whom are still current members – see here for a full list) to submit video recollections, sharing their memories and perspectives from those early years. For the charter members who are unfortunately no longer with us, the Heritage Committee (Chaired by Elizabeth Griffin) will be compiling short biographies in memory of our founding colleagues. In addition to this reflection upon the past, we also want to look forwards to the next half century. The Graduate Student Committee (Chaired by Carter Rhea) will be reaching out to current graduate students and postdocs to invite them to make “futurecast” videos, speculating what Canadian astronomy will look like at our 100th anniversary in 2071. Highlights from these futurecasts will also be shared at the AGM banquet. Finally, as you will have seen via the CASCA email exploder, a competition is currently open to submit an anniversary themed Zoom background that can be used during our virtual meeting in May. Submissions are due by April 20, and may be uploaded here.

Anniversary celebrations are just one facet of our AGM, which is coming up in less than 50 days (May 10-14). Dennis Crabtree and his team have been working feverishly on preparations for a stimulating and diverse meeting, that blends science, socializing and societal priorities and promises to be a conference unlike any you have attended in the past! The roster of invited speakers is nearing completion and will likely be posted on the CASCA2021 website by the time you read this. Speaker highlights include a public lecture by Nobel Laureate Andrea Ghez and an indigenous cultural awareness session given by Bob Joseph (author of “21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act”, a copy of which will be given free to all participants). The deadline for abstract submission has now passed and 147 abstracts were received for oral contributions across the scientific, EPO, and EDI/Sustainability categories. The deadline for applications for dependent care support has been extended to April 15. Although the deadline for general registration extends until May 3, the Organizing Committee encourages people to register early for the conference as some information will be sent to only registered attendees via the Whova platform.

On the lobbying and engagement front, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy has been very active this last quarter. A commitment for membership and funding in the SKA is urgently needed (see the article by Kristine Spekkens on behalf of the AACS in this newsletter edition for further updates on the SKA). Since the SKA Observatory, an inter-governmental treaty-based organization, came into force in February, Canada’s lack of formal commitment (via membership and funding) means that our status within the project has effectively been reduced to “observer”, with no means to provide scientific, technical or governance input. Moreover, if we have not joined SKAO by July 2021 we will likely lose the highly desirable, and valuable, correlator contract provisionally allocated to Canada. Given this, our political and bureaucratic outreach has been focused on SKA membership and funding through much of Q4 2020 and Q1 of 2021, with a particular focus on the Ministers and Departments of Finance and Innovation, Science and Industry.

A commitment to the SKA might be made in the Federal budget itself. At present, there is no date for the 2021 budget, and the Prime Minister recently announced that the budget will not be in March or early April. If so, and based on the House of Commons calendar, the next earliest opportunity is the week of April 12, though it could be even later as on March 12 the Prime Minister said the budget date will be announced “in the coming weeks.” Regardless, assuming that it is within the 4-6 weeks that begin on April 12, the budget could set the stage for a late-May or June election. While all parties are suggesting they do not want an election, all are also getting ready, with candidate nominations picking up steam, campaign personnel starting to get appointed, and platform development underway. Regardless of the timing of the budget and a possible 2021 election, the messaging to decision-makers has focused on the fact all SKA partners except Canada have now formally or informally committed to the project and that a failure by Canada to do so by July will strongly compromise our return on investment.

The availability of our Long Range Plan 2020-2030 has been very timely in our engagement efforts, and is providing a valuable tool to signal our coordinated strategy for the next decade. As you know, the basic text of LRP2020 has been available on CASCA’s website since December 2020. The completion of the fully typeset+graphics version should be available in electronic version within a few weeks and a message will be posted to the CASCA exploder to alert our membership to its availability. Printed copies are expected about a month beyond the electronic version, at which point the Coalition will organize a mass mailing to targeted Ministers, MPs, Senators, and Departmental stakeholders, along with a cover letter from the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, highlighting the major project opportunities in the LRP, such as SKA and CASTOR.

In addition to the pressing need for SKA funding, the CASTOR mission is also very much in need of our commitment. The next 9-12 months are critical, as the project intends to seek government approval in early 2022 and secure Canadian leadership in the mission. The Space Technology Development Program (STDP) study will start this month or next, and the call for a Phase 0 study is expected in the summer. More detail is available in the CASTOR update in the current newsletter, and there will be a dedicated Town Hall Session as part of the AGM (May 13). Students and postdocs are particularly encouraged to get involved in these efforts, as CASTOR promises to a flagship for Canadian space astronomy in the coming decade, with opportunities across the fields of astronomy, aeronautics, software development hardware design and manufacture.