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  (Source: Unreality Magazine)

The Canadian government has censored a pro-global warming hoax/parody site by the U.S. group "The Yes Men". In the process Canada also accidentally shut down 4500 other innocent environment sites.  (Source: Sundance Movie Festival)

The Yes Men are Jacque Servin and Igor Vamos, who go by the aliases Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (respectively).  (Source: Uniter)
Blame Canada for this one

Canada seems likely a pretty friendly neighbor to the U.S. -- hardly the kinda of place where you would expect censorship to rear its ugly head.  However, that's exactly what happened in an example of the nation trying to silence dissent on the internet.  The story serves as a reminder that censorship is occurring on both sides of the warming debate, not just the skeptics.

According to The Seattle Pi, Canada has taken down two websites by The Yes Men, an activist group that had posted fake press releases posing as the Canadian government to try to push the country to action on global warming.  However, that was just the start of the snowball -- Canada's takedown effort has killed over 4,500 innocent sites as well.

The debacle began when the "Yes Men" pranksters announced that Canada would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 40 percent from 1990 levels, and 80 percent by the year 2050, reductions roughly in line with those pledged by U.S. President Obama.  The supposed "announcement" came as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was instead secretly discussing plans to permit a 165 percent increase in emissions from Alberta's huge oil sands project.

Enraged at the fake statements, Mike Landreville from Environment Canada (Canada's EPA equivalent) wrote German Internet Service Provider (ISP) Serveloft asking them to take down the two sites involved -- "enviro-canada.ca" and "ec-gc.ca" -- to avoid the "deception" of the Canadian public.

He wrote, "We trust you appreciate the importance of avoiding confusion among the public concerning Canadian governmental affairs and that you will assist us in preventing this hoax from spreading further."

Then he took things a step further, asking the ISP to "make every effort to prevent any further attempts concerning other environment-related domains (enviro, ec-gc, etc.) originating from your servers."

The ISP bowed to the nation's request, and in the process took down 4,500 Canadian environment sites that were innocent bystanders.  Mike Bonanno of "Yes Men" blasted the takedown, stating, "We are sorry to see that the Canadian government will not 'take certain actions' that could help stave off catastrophic climate change and we are sorry to see that they don't care so much for free speech."

The hoax was quite artful.  The "Yes Men" printed press releases on what look like official Canadian government stationary and even included a fake PR shot of someone who looked like Uganda's climate representative standing in front of a replica UN podium, praising Canada's "decision".  Worldwide hundreds of news sites ran with the story, completely fooled. 

The "Yes Men" consist of Jacque Servin, an author of experimental fiction, and Igor Vamos, an associate professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York.  Mr. Servin is infamous in the tech community for placing images of kissing men inside SimCopter while he worked as an employee at Maxis.  The prank was not discovered until after the game's release. 

Since, the pair have become even more famous for the war of hoaxes they wage on those they feel are a destructive influence on society.  Most famously, after Dow Chemical did little to help the victims of a 1984 chemical disaster that left 120,000 in India needing long term care, the "Yes Men" sprang into action.  They released a "Dow" press release claiming that the company was liquidating the involved subsidy to pay for the victims' medical costs.  The storm of negative PR against Dow's subsequent denial of the statement didn't lead to that happening, but it did punish Dow for its inaction, devaluing the company stock by approximately $2B USD.

Ultimately, the pair has yet again succeeded in the Canadian debacle.  First they have brought international media attention to Canada's global warming policy (claiming to support emissions reductions while secretly brokering emissions increases).  Second, the bungled takedown attempt not only draws more attention to the topic, but also to the perils of censorship.  Much as China is perpetually criticized for its own displays of censorship, the Canadian government will invariably be taking some heat over this gratuitous display of internet censorship in coming weeks. 

The sites involved now appear to be up again, with a brief message describing the takedown.  Some of the sites in the ISP block appear to be back to life as well, following the wave of complaints Serveloft received.



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Tyhr on 1/6/2010 1:07:37 PM , Rating: 2
I am VERY surprised to hear that...especially since I'm WATCHING FOXnews on tv through regular cable right now...in Canada.

I think there are some Sirius Radio stations that are not licensed to broadcast in Canada. I think Howard Stern is one of them, but I don't have Sirius so I can't verify. Is that censorship? I doubt it since we had Howard Stern's tv show here. Would you say it's censorship that the US won't allow chocolate bars such as Coffee Crisp, Mr. Big, or Caramilk either???

You could make a case for censorship of the US not having Robertson screws - but that's really not a government censorship issue but rather a patent issue.

Canada also does not allow speeding, theft or murder...all things that some may consider infringing on their personal right to express themselves? No - it's not called censorship then either. Breaking serious laws is something else.

I am against censorship, but this case is not censorship. Impersonating a government body should be an illegal activity and I do not think our freedom of rights stipulates "you have the right to impersonate a member or body of government and post made up news that can affect the citizens."

Otherwise you'd have sites saying "Hey citizens of Canada - we're the government and we say you no longer have to pay your taxes - and it's official because we are the government. Just look at our URL, it look real right?"

Spoofing Obama on SNL is one thing, but setting up a website designed to look like the US government and propogate realistically looking false information is something else entirely.


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