OTTAWA — The infamous American pranksters known as The Yes Men launched an elaborate hoax Monday targeting Canada’s stance in climate-change negotiations at Copenhagen.
The multi-pronged ruse tripped up a number of news organizations, including the Globe and Mail, the Huffington Post and Edmonton talk-radio host Dave Rutherford.
“The idea was to confuse the Canadian government, which set up a war room to positively spin their position in the debate even though everyone here knows that their position is a cruel joke,” Yes Men member Mike Bonanno told the Associated Press.
The New York-based group’s web site states their goal is “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them.”
Past targets have included U.S. President George W. Bush, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the World Trade Organization and Dow Chemical.
The group is holding a news conference Tuesday in Copenhagen, but most of its chaos has already been achieved.
“Canada gets punk’d in Copenhagen,” said a Huffington Post headline Monday morning.
Unfortunately for the left-of-centre online newspaper, it too fell for part of the hoax.
The gambit began just after 8 a.m. ET Monday, when a news release was issued by email under Environment Canada letterhead claiming that Canada is dramatically revising its carbon emissions targets. It linked to a very real looking government web site announcement.
The news release purported to quote Environment Minister Jim Prentice saying the deeper Canadian reductions were a response to developing nations, and would be accompanied with a large cash infusion to help fund climate change mitigation efforts.
A little more than an hour later, a second news release came out, criticizing the first as a fake and again quoting Prentice.
It called the first communique “the height of cruelty, hypocrisy and immorality” and indicated many had been fooled by the hoax. As evidence, the release included links to a purported Wall Street Journal story on Canada’s policy change and to a purported United Nations website that included Ugandan reaction.
However, both the Wall Street Journal story and the UN web link were also elaborate fakes.
In fact, the whole second news release decrying the hoax was a fabrication.
The Huffington Post reported on the initial fake email, but got completely bamboozled by the second.
“Since then, Canadian officials have been forced to walk this all back,” said the Post story.
“In a press release from Frederic Baril, the actual press secretary of the Office of the Minister of the Environment, he combats the ’spoof press release’ . . . .
“Of course, that link just goes to that fake Wall Street Journal article, so Canada has a way to go before they’re all caught up on what’s going on.”
The Globe and Mail briefly made a similar mistake, reporting the second email as real.
But any journalist who called the phone number provided on the second “real” news release quickly saw through the ruse.
The pranksters actually answered the number provided and comically maintained they were Environment Canada officials. However they provided juvenile names such as “Martin Tuchasbaum” and “Dick Impala” and couldn’t say where their Ottawa office was located.
The group subsequently issued a third phoney news release, this time with a link to video of faux Ugandan reaction to the fake Canadian policy change.
Radio station CHED in Edmonton, meanwhile, interviewed “Gustav Rainer,” who told host Dave Rutherford he was the Wall Street Journal freelancer who’d fallen for the ruse in good faith and written the story as if it was real. Unfortunately, no one at the Wall Street Journal could identify a Gustav Rainer and there is no online record of him ever writing for the paper. Another hoax.
CHED soon dropped the Rainer story.
The Canadian government was on to the ruse from the get-go.
Prentice said the hoax was unhelpful, but it was at the “periphery” of the real focus in Copenhagen, which is the negotiations.
“Certainly there are many things going on on the periphery of those negotiations. Some of them are undesirable, and there will be other things that will continue to happen that will be undesirable — including press releases that are a hoax.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, issued a statement that went further, suggesting well-known Canadian environmental activist Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre may be the perpetrator.
“More time should be dedicated to playing a constructive role instead of childish pranks,” said Soudas.
Guilbeault was deeply insulted by the allegation.
“I’m speechless. Why would I do that? It’s not what I do, it’s not how I do it. My positions are known, my comments are public,” he said in an interview.
Guilbeault confronted Soudas at the Copenhagen conference and asked for an apology, but was instead told by Soudas that it was Guilbeault who should apologize for criticizing Canada at an international summit.
“It seems that we no longer live in a democracy,” said Guilbeault.