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Environment Minister Jim Prentice arrives in Copenhagen on Friday, December 11, 2009.

Canada is red-faced at the Copenhagen climate-change conference as a result of a spoof news release purporting to be from Environment Canada announcing Canada was bringing in bold new emissions reduction targets.

The authentic-looking release, which was announced on a fake Jim Prentice Twitter account, caught many observers off guard and a fake story about it landed on a fake Wall Street Journal website - all an elaborate ruse to embarrass Canada, which is being considered the " dirty-old man" of the conference for its intransigence on negotiating better targets.

"In a major development coming three days before the final round of UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, and responding to the recent concerns expressed by the G77 bloc of countries, Canada's Attache for Environment and Planning announced today an ambitious plan for a new climate change framework that answers vital concerns voiced by developing nations," says the fake release. It says that Canada plans to bring in new targets of 40 per cent below 1990 by 2020 - way more ambitious than what the real Mr. Prentice has come to Copenhagen with.

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The prank continued with another legitimate-looking statement from Environment Canada attempting to contain the damage: "One hour ago, a spoof press release targeted Canada in order to generate hurtful rumours and mislead the Conference of Parties on Canada's positions on climate change, and to damage Canada's standing with the international business community," it says. It says that the spoof was "unfortunately" reported in major international outlets. It says the targets and all statements in the release are "unequivocally false."

But that statement, too, proved to be a fake. The elaborate and damaging spoof comes just a week after Greenpeace activists embarrassed the government by climbing the roof of Parliament buildings to protest Canada's leadership on his issue.

Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was unimpressed. "More time should be dedicated to playing a constructive role instead of childish pranks," he said in an email to The Globe.

The story raised hackles in Copenhagen, with tensions running high between Mr. Soudas, who is travelling with Mr. Prentice, and Steven Guilbeault, a Quebec environmentalist with Équiterre who is as well-known in that province as David Suzuki's is in the rest of Canada.

Mr. Soudas, who is not sure who wrote the releases, said Mr. Guilbeault was forwarding the fake announcements around and then had camped in front of where the Canadian delegation is located. Mr. Guilbeault denies any involvement in the prank.

The Prime Minister's spokesman added that the Environment Minister is meeting with his provincial colleagues and is also to meet with the U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu later. A real press release, Mr. Soudas said, will be issued from that meeting.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is also in Copenhagen, says she doesn't know who is behind the spoof but says it is clearly "an attempt to draw attention to Canada and force Canada to go to the media and say 'no, we haven't budged.'"

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She doesn't believe that any Canadian did it, although she says it was "damn clever."

(Photo: The Environment Minister arrives in Copenhagen on Friday. Marketwire)

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