This isn’t a post about Percy Schmeiser, the real-life Bruno, Sask. farmer, and me, the Western Producer reporter.
This is about Percy the Myth, now of Hollywood movie fame (played by Christopher Walken,) and me, the Western Producer reporter.
I’ve never much engaged with the mythology of Percy, who became a cause celebre for anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) activists, anti-corporate power activists and many, many people on the social and political left during and especially after his trial for illegally obtaining, growing and attempting to profit from Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready canola seed in 1997 and 1998. I’ve found those who love the myth and the mythology surrounding Schmeiser, his case and the issues it raises aren’t generally interested in the fascinating complexities and nuances of the case, but prefer a David versus Goliath narrative that is likely far from the truth.
I know all about the case. I visited the Schmeiser farm before the trial, to talk about the case with Percy. I had lunch with Percy and Mrs. Schmeiser (both very likeable people), as I did once with Percy during the trial. I covered all two and a half weeks of the trial in Saskatoon Federal court, except for the afternoon of the first day, when I ran back to our Saskatoon newsroom to hammer out stories right on our Monday deadline.
I attended the wedding of one of Schmeiser’s lawyers. I became friends with a couple of the Monsanto officials who attended the trial. I got to know lawyers on both sides and at law schools who were fascinated by the patent law complexities the Schmeiser trial, which occurred right at the birth of the GMO crops era, addressed and grappled with. It was a stimulating, dramatic and challenging trial, one that involved the science of genetic engineering, the finer points of patent law as it might apply to living organisms, allegations thrown by both sides at the other, and holding enormous stakes for farmers and agriculture, whichever side won.
I haven’t seen the new film, Percy. I also haven’t attended the play about the trial written and performed a few years ago, although I heard it was good and well-written. I haven’t watched any of the “documentaries” about the case which have been produced. It’s not that I’m not interested in the case still, but I haven’t wanted to see skewed and one-sided representations of the case, which I have suspected some of the treatments might have been. I don’t want to find myself griping about inaccuracies and misrepresentations in others’ work, since I find myself a tiresome drone when I do that.
However, with this new film out now, I think many people may wish to learn more about the actual case, with all its complexities and complications. At the Western Producer we talked about how to deal with covering the release of this new film, since it was likely to draw much public attention, and I suggested our best role might be in simply making available for people everywhere our extensive coverage of the case over the years. I asked if we could pull together an archive of the case and our digital editor, Paul Yanko, created one. You can find it here.
If you really want to know the whole story, at least as far as we covered it, scroll down through the dozens of stories to the very first one written by Penny Yeager, our intern at the time, on April 15, 1999 and carry on forward in time from there. It’s a great read (I just re-read it myself, something else I’ve avoided for the past 20 years) and provides what newspaper journalism is supposed to be: the first draft of history.