OTTAWA - Canada's lead climate-change negotiator told senior officials that a walkout by some countries at global-warming talks in Thailand "certainly happened," even as their boss was on TV denying the account, a newly released document shows.
The Canadian Press reported in the fall that dozens of countries left the room after the Canadian delegation suggested replacing the Kyoto Protocol with a new global-warming pact.
The United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and others share Canada's position. What to do with Kyoto was a major sticking point between the rich and developing world at the recent climate talks in Copenhagen.
But cracks were already forming in the weeks and months leading to Copenhagen.
After the walkout story appeared, Environment Minister Jim Prentice told CBC the events "did not happen" as described.
"There was no walkout that took place during the Canadian presentation" at a round of talks in Bangkok, the minister said.
A high-ranking official at Environment Canada emailed Michael Martin, Canada's chief negotiator and ambassador for climate change, that same day to find out just what happened.
David McGovern, assistant deputy minister for international affairs, deemed the story "a gross exaggeration of the truth."
Not quite, replied Martin.
"I don't think it so much an exaggeration but it was not a response to Canada's position alone but rather to that of all developed countries on the future of the (Kyoto Protocol)," he wrote.
"It certainly happened."
The department's communications branch also drafted a response to the story, which in part said: "It is unfortunate that some countries chose to walk out during the session."
Another set of documents says the walkout came before the Canadians spoke.
Martin told The Canadian Press at the time that "five or six" countries, including China and South Africa, left an informal meeting held one evening. But he disputed reports the entire Group of 77 developing nations - except for a group of small island states - left the room. He added talks resumed the next day.
Martin denied contradicting Prentice when asked about the October emails.
"The facts remain as I stated and as the minister confirmed," he said in an email Tuesday.
"Some countries (not "dozens") did leave the room, but not when Canada was speaking nor after Canada spoke. They left prior to Canada's intervention. 'It certainly happened' refers to the fact that some countries left the meeting."
The Canadian Press obtained the original set of emails and other documents under the Access to Information Act. They were released only after two tough weeks of climate talks in the Danish capital.
The outcome of those negotiations was the so-called Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding agreement brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Other countries, including Canada, also support the accord.
But several nations protested the agreement, which urges major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts, but does not require it.
The summit also saw Canada's image take a serious scuffing.
Environmental groups bestowed the dubious "Colossal Fossil" award on Canada. Serial pranksters The Yes Men pulled a fast one on Canada that shone unflattering light on the government's targets to lower greenhouse gases. And provincial leaders, most notably Quebec Premier Jean Charest, assailed Ottawa for not doing enough to get the country's emissions under control.