Spoof Health Canada email offers shovelling credit

A fake news release spoofing Health Canada promised a tax credit for seniors who shovel snow.
Shop keepers in Dartmouth, N.S. clear their sidewalk as a major winter storm swept through the Maritimes on Feb. 2, 2011. A spoof Health Canada press release sent Monday promised fitness tax credits for seniors who do their own shovelling. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Some journalists were left scratching their heads Monday after a fake government press release promising snow shovelling tax credits for seniors hit their inboxes.

The spoof release was quickly revealed as a fake by a phone call to the office of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. The phony emailed news release said the government would provide fitness tax credits for seniors shovelling snow if they submitted photos as evidence.

A communications consultant in Winnipeg, reached by CBC's Alison Crawford, admitted to being behind the fake.

The release contained quotes from Aglukkaq billing it as preventive health care and independent living.

The email appeared to come from Health Canada's media relations email address, but instead came from a variation on the address.

The fake news release said seniors could get $50 for shovelling snow, or $100 if it was heavy and wet.

"Concerns that shovelling snow might lead to heart attacks was unwarranted," the release quoted Aglukkaq as saying.

"There is no scientific consensus on the link between shovelling snow and heart attacks.... In fact, there is considerably more credible scientific evidence for climate change."

Aglukkaq's spokesman assured CBC News that the release was not from their office. 

The federal government has been the victim of spoof emails before.

In 2009, a group called the Yes Men sent a series of news releases during the UN's Copenhagen climate change summit that said Canada was committing to drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Winnipeg prankster admits to email

But in this case, the prankster says it was a way to poke fun at a government who has used targeted tax credits with great success in winning over voters.

Crawford says Dougald Lamont at first denied it when she asked whether he was the one behind the spoof that assures seniors they will be "rewarded – even posthumously – for [shovelling snow] themselves." 

But pressed again, the Winnipeg communications consultant admitted he sent his creative release to 120 people. 

"It was an impulse I had," Lamont told Crawford. "I had just finished a copy of Private Eye, the British satirical magazine."

Lamont says he thinks the release, which so far has not been taken too seriously by any media outlet, is a creative way to poke fun at a government with a proven record of winning support from small sectors of the voting public with targeted tax credits. 

That, Lamont says, combined with looming negotiations over health-care funding in Canada, made Monday's prank all the more appealing.