Skip to main content

Simon Metke chips away at a fossilized skull in his apartment in Edmonton on Thursday. Metke was arrested in 2014 and charged with possessing a stolen artifact, a Persian bas-relief from fifth-century B.C, worth about $1.2-million.

For a while, it felt like destiny, a string of events so unlikely it could only have been fated. But Simon Metke doesn't think that way any more.

Instead, for Mr. Metke, it now seems more like a cosmic joke that brought the Edmonton man and an ancient soldier together, thrusting him into a world of Canadian art theft, criminal justice, drug charges, flamboyantly bad Hollywood filmmaking, an army of deadly Canadian Nazi sausages and the creation of the term "yoga hoser."

"Even though it was such a stressful thing, I still appreciate the beauty of the absurdity of it," Mr. Metke says. "It's so easy to try and make it meaningful because of how intense it all is, but it's so abstract at the same time. People are just like, 'Yeah, your life is crazy.'"

The story began in 2011, when a friend in Montreal told Mr. Metke about a man who was selling a stone sculpture of a soldier, claiming it was some kind of antiquity. Mr. Metke, who was deeply interested in ancient cultures and heading to Montreal for a visit, seemed a likely buyer.

But when Mr. Metke saw the piece in his friend's apartment, he was skeptical. It looked to him more like a high-end replica, like a mantle decoration that could be bought at a home store in a suburban strip mall. Still, he appreciated the workmanship and, though the price was high – $1,400 – his friend stood to make a commission on the sale.

Appearing as it did just ahead of the year 2012 (the final year of the Mayan calendar) and in the midst of Mr. Metke's own intense spiritual journey, well, he thought it was meant to be.

He googled, "Is there a Mesopotamian artifact missing?" but found nothing. So he bought the sculpture, packed it with his clothes and – after his suitcase was briefly lost by an airline – unwittingly brought a 2,500-year-old Persian artifact back to his condo in Edmonton.

At first, Mr. Metke kept it in a meditation area in his living room. But he eventually moved it onto a bedroom bookshelf, where the bas-relief sculpture that once lined the hall in Persepolis sat among an array of Star Wars figurines, stuffed animals and crystals, no more meaningful or special than his other mementos and icons. He thought about taking it on Antiques Roadshow to see if it was worth anything, but never did.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Metke, the sculpture had been stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts a couple of months before he bought it, although the theft was not initially made public. It was valued at $1.2-million, and there was a hefty reward available for its return.

On Jan. 22, 2014, police officers working with the RCMP's Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team showed up at his door.

"The sun's coming in through the window, the bougainvillea flowers are glowing, the crystals are making rainbows," he says, mimicking what he said when interviewed following his arrest for the theft of the sculpture and some drug-related charges.

Mr. Metke's case – and that colourful quote – caught the attention of Kevin Smith, the American film director behind movies such as Clerks, Mallrats and Dogma, who joked about the story on his podcast. When co-host Scott Mosier mimicked an RCMP officer at the door of Mr. Metke's apartment saying, "Open up, yoga hoser," the term took hold.

On April 20 that year – 420, the day that potheads annually celebrate the cannabis culture – Mr. Smith announced he was working on a script for a movie called Yoga Hosers. The plot was not actually Mr. Metke's story – it's about two teenaged girls from Winnipeg who save the country from Canadian Nazi sausages – but the film included a flaky yoga teacher character named Yogi Bayer, clearly styled to resemble Mr. Metke.

The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2016, with a cast that included Johnny Depp and Natasha Lyonne. Justin Long, who played Yogi Bayer, tried to contact Mr. Metke before it shot to help develop the character.

"He eventually called me, months after I shot my scenes," Mr. Long said, speaking on the carpet at Sundance.

The movie was broadly panned, with one review describing it as "close to unwatchable" and "a corny Canuck joke, told for 88 surreally unfunny minutes."

The situation has, at times, felt surreal and unfunny for Mr. Metke, too.

But after more than three years, the case was finally resolved in an Edmonton courtroom this week. Mr. Metke pleaded guilty to one count of possession of stolen property. Two drug-related charges were stayed.

An agreed statement of facts acknowledged Mr. Metke didn't know the artifact was stolen but that he "could have gone further" to determine where it came from. The case was described variously by the Crown and defence as "very unique," "very, very unique" and "extraordinary."

The judge granted Mr. Metke a conditional discharge with a period of probation and community service. Dozens of friends who showed up in court for Mr. Metke broke out in cheers, and some wiped away tears. Mr. Metke hugged the prosecutor.

With the threat of jail and the possibility of a criminal record behind him, Mr. Metke says he plans to get back into projects he had been working on, including shooting documentary footage of ancient landscapes and further developing a vertical garden system he created. He's refining a theory about life he calls "The Entropy of Irony," and is trying to find positive things in his strange experience.

He says he started to watch Yoga Hosers once, and may try again one day.

The ancient soldier, meanwhile, is back at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Court heard it returned from its journey in "pristine condition," carried back by an archeology professor who travelled to Edmonton to retrieve it.

There's an orange stuffed octopus on the shelf where the artifact used to be. Mr. Metke knows exactly where it came from.

Interact with The Globe