Fake press releases are a case of identity theft, says NDP

Stop the presses: that story quoting New Democratic Party faithful calling for leader Jack Layton’s head is a fraud.

Stop the presses: that story quoting New Democratic Party faithful calling for leader Jack Layton’s head is a fraud.

In late December, several press releases from a group calling itself “New Democrats for change” arrived at the News with eye-raising titles like “NDPers call for Layton’s resignation.”

Mouths fell open, as the potential story — Layton being pushed out by his own party — was gold.

Dimitri Kampouris, NDP MP for the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell riding in Ontario is “quoted” in one release saying: “Jack’s performance has been ineffective.”

That same release goes on to similarly “quote” several senior NDP organizers, riding association presidents and former candidates, with their criticism focused on the NDP’s “silence” on Afghanistan and Layton’s “malaise.”

But the truth is the releases were complete fakes, said federal secretary for the NDP Eric Hebert-Daly on Thursday.

“We’re trying everything we can to get to the bottom of this,” said Hebert-Daly from Ottawa.

“It’s something that we’re quite concerned about, and naturally, the people whose identities have been stolen are feeling quite upset and vulnerable by this.”

An investigation in the NDP has determined three e-mail press releases were sent to newspaper editors across Canada from a Google Gmail account, said Hebert-Daly.

It isn’t clear if the e-mail addresses used to contact newspaper editors with the releases have been stolen from a party database or were assembled from public information, he said.

The NDP’s lawyers have subpoenaed Google, based in Mountain View, California, for any information it has about the e-mail address used to send the releases, but is having a bit of a rough time, said Hebert-Daly.

“They are not recognizing that; there’s a bit of an ongoing battle about which jurisdiction covers this particular issue. But we are expecting to get some answers soon. Frankly it’s not an easy thing to get to the bottom of.”

If Google continues to ignore the NDP’s lawyers, the party is considering filing a subpoena in a California court, said Hebert-Daly.

Perhaps the most amazing fact about the fake releases is that they made it into only two newspapers.

The popular Toronto entertainment weekly, NOW Magazine, and a newspaper in Sault-St. Marie, Ontario, were the only publications to run stories with quotes from the fake releases without checking their facts, said Hebert-Daly.

Both have run retractions, he said.

Layton’s leadership and image is strong within his party, with more than 90 per cent of delegates at a recent convention supporting him, said Hebert-Daly.

“Clearly there are some folks who want to help to take that shine away,” he said. “In a strange sort of way, the attack is a bit flattering.”

But the releases are also unnerving as they violate people by inaccurately quoting them, he added.

The NDP is treating the incident as multiple cases of identity theft.

Any potential legal action against whoever may be found to be behind the fake releases is up to the individuals inaccurately quoted within them, said Hebert-Daly.

“I know if I had been quoted saying some of these things in the papers or a press release I would have felt violated,” he said.

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