John Hofsess is a man with a mission, and it is becoming quite clear that he does not care how many corners he cuts as he rushes to push through legalized euthanasia in Canada.
Hofsess’s first public setback came last year when it was revealed that he used a government grant to establish his organization, the Right to Die Society. He later identified himself as a member of the Right to Life Society, in a published letter to the editor of the Toronto Star. Now he has been forced to admit that he forged a letter: this time, a letter critical of the work of the ALS Society of B.C., supposedly written and signed by Sue Rodriguez.
Formerly a professional writer, Hofsess was awarded a Canada Council grant in 1991, to research and write a book on dying in Canada. However, last summer he wrote in the Right to Die newsletter that this money ($18,000) had been used to get the Society, whose main purpose is political lobbying off the ground. He asked members to lend money to the organization, promising to repay when his next installment arrived.
Liberal MP Don Boudria was infuriated that public funds should be misused in this way and asked the Minister of Communications, Perrin Beatty, to confirm how much money had been provided to Hofsess by the Canada Council.
Mr. Beatty confirmed that a grant of $18,000 was awarded to Hofsesss in 1991, and that no further amounts were owing. “The full amount of this grant has been paid,” Announced Mr. Beatty in the House of Commons on September 9, 1992.
Hofsess, however, in writing to his membership asking for loans earlier that summer, referred specifically to his continued support from the Canada Council. At one point, he said, “I am not due to receive a renewal of Canada Council funds until August.” Later in the same letter, he wrote, “…by late August, when I receive a major Canada Council installment.”
Hofsess wrote at great length, and with great indignity, about the fuss over government funding. He wanted his supporters to view the matter as some kind of plot against his cause. He said he sees nothing wrong with using public money for a purpose beyond that for which it was granted. After all, he argued, opinion polls show that a majority are in favour of legalizing euthanasia, “Of course it is in the public interest to spend public funds on what an overwhelming majority of the public say repeatedly they want.”
He does not, however, seem to follow his own advice to media representatives to “get the facts right,” when he writes to his members. Even though the government had made it clear that his grant had been paid in full, Hofsess implied that the matter was still up in the air, and that he expected more money. “…it is not clear—and it will not be clear until mid-July (1992) whether Council has caved into political pressures on this matter.”
John Hofsess is not inexperienced in how to manipulate public opinion. His professional background includes a stint as a writer for Loblaw’s Insider’s Report, which, he says, gave him skills in selling the Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie.
When ALS sufferer, Sue Rodriguez, contacted the Right to Die Society in her search for assisted suicide, Hofsess had the symbol he needed to mount a massive campaign for public sympathy.
The emphasis was placed on the personality of Ms. Rodriguez as a mentally-competent adult who wished to be in control of her affairs. In a videotaped appearance last year 0before a House of Commons committee studying changes to the Criminal Code, she argued, “If I cannot give consent to my own death, then whose body is this? Who owns my life?”
But the image of John Hofsess as the compassionate, concerned person who was championing her quest for control was beginning to crack.
Hofsess revealed that he had contacted Jack Kevorkian in Michigan, the suicide-machine inventor, to see if he would help. However, Kevorkian would only help if Ms. Rodriguez traveled to him, and Hofsess was concerned that changes in air pressure during the flight would cause her death. Sheryl Eckstein Sr., of the Compassionate Healthcare Network, observed, “Does that mean Hofsess is concerned that Sue might die, before she is killed?”
The Right to Die Society and Sue Rodriguez lost the first round of her court case, and Hofsess moved to keep public sympathy on her side.
In his zeal to keep her name in the spotlight, he made what he admitted later was a “Freudian slip.” In a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star, he signed himself as representing The Right to Life Society of Canada. Part of the text of that letter can only be read ironically now in light of his later actions. He said, “Journalists, however, have to be scrupulously careful to get the words right and the fact right when dealing with an issue that is truly of ‘life and death importance’ to many Canadians.”
In late January this year, the Vancouver Sun reported on a letter received from Ms. Rodriguez, denouncing the ALS Society of B.C. for “compounding her misery” by refusing to back her court case officially.
Three days later, the Sun revealed that Ms Rodriguez had contacted the paper following this story to say that she had not written the letter. “I would not make those comments, and I am sorry they were said,” she said.
John Hofsess admitted to writing the letter, and forging her signature. As an explanation, he offered that he had prepared statements for her in the past which she had accepted without changes, or with very minor ones. He added that, since Ms Rodriguez could no longer feed herself, “Obviously Sue has reached the point where people have to speak for her.”
The story was still alive, however, with another report the next day, where Hofsess admitted that it was “inappropriate and unethical” to forge the letter, adding he still believed that “I acted in what I perceived to be the best interest of Sue Rodriguez.”
Two weeks later it was beginning to appear that this story would never die. Anne Mullens, the Sun journalist who wrote the original story about Ms Rodriguez’s bitterness towards the ALS Society, had a column in the Ottawa Citizen, in which she explained the whole affair in detail.
She explained that the Hofsess forgery had been received by her paper as a three-page submission for the Sun’s opinion page. Ms. Mullens had used this as the base for her first story without contacting Ms Rodriguez.
In the Citizen, she explained why she acted in this way. “…you have to understand the nature of the relationship that has existed among Rodriguez, Hofsess and the media for the last five months..
Weekly, if not daily, he updates developments in the legal challenges and Rodriguez’s health and progress, urging us to ‘look into this angle.’”
Ms Mullens knew that Ms Rodriguez had had “a bad week,” and she didn’t want to bother her. She suspected that Hofsess had probably written the column, but she said it never occurred to her that Ms Rodriguez would not have approved it before it was sent out. She admitted that if she had known “a small tidbit from Hofsess’s past” she would have been more suspicious.
”He has been under scrutiny before,” she wrote. “As New York correspondent in 1980 for the now-defunct Calgary Albertan, Hofsess’s review of the horror flick Friday the 13th was remarkably similar to one in the New Your Times by Janet Maslin.
‘The word plagiarism was never used,’ Hofsess defended himself recently. But he admits a few paragraphs were identical and, back then, he apologized in the paper, leaving the job of his own accord shortly after.”
“John Hofsess reminds me of the guy who tried to sell me some swampland in Florida for a condominium,” observed Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition. “People are not fooled that easily.”