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I got this in my inbox a couple weeks ago (although I just opened it now), and I think it's pretty good. I received this through Mirha-Soleil Ross' email address, I don't know if she compiled this herself, although it seems like it.


As the hysteria around the documentary, “Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat”, continues to grow at a ridiculous rate, some animal rights activists felt the need to draw up a general letter to state the reasons why we think the protest against the film is misguided and misleading. We hope this package can be used as a tool to educate and inform other animal rights activists on facts and help clear up a lot of the confusion.

Here are some basic reasons why so many animal rights activists are not protesting the film:

1) It is a documentary that addresses the controversial topic of animal abuse in the arts community. No animal was killed or mistreated in the making of this documentary. It is clear that the film does not glorify nor condone the abuse of animals for arts’ sake. This is corroborated by those who have seen the movie, from journalists and film critics, to animal welfare advocates and the film festival co-ordinator.

2) The “cat-killing” video, made by Jesse Power, was not included in this documentary. At the beginning of this campaign, a rumour circulated to the effect that the documentary included the cat-skinning footage.

3) The filmmakers/producers didn’t make a film to condone or endorse the actions of Jesse Powers or of any other act of animal cruelty. They made the film to stir a debate on this issue. As any responsible fimmaker would do, they interviewed people on both sides of the issue, including the three perpetrators, two art curators who defended the perpetrators’ action, two animal rights activists/ artists who spoke against artists who abuse/ kill animals and more specifically against Jesse Powers. Also interviewed was the detective who worked on the case.

4) Despite claims made by Freedom for Animals, Linda Feesey, the producer of the documentary, is not associated with Jesse Powers.

5) This campaign, which has attracted angry responses internationally, was launched by two mis-informed activists in Toronto working with a group called Freedom for Animals. Freedom for Animals and these two activists do not represent the broader animal rights community in either Toronto or elsewhere. These activists have not even taken the time to consult with other animal rights activists and artists (who have been involved in this case since the beginning) before launching this campaign.

It is important to state that the crime committed by Jesse Powers did not happen in a vacuum. There is a history of crimes perpetrated against animals in the arts’ community, a history that needs to be brought into the open, confronted and debated. The campaign to ban this documentary consists in shutting out a debate on this very important issue.

The following package includes reviews of the film by Toronto film critics, a letter from the festival co-director, a letter from the Toronto Humane Society, a short note from In Defence of Animals, and an open letter to Freedom for Animals from animal rights activist Mirha-Soleil Ross.

August 31, 2004
Toronto International Film Festival Co-Director's Statement

The Festival has received a number of concerned emails and phone calls, following recent media stories, regarding the documentary CASUISTRY: THE ART OF KILLING A CAT. The Festival Co-Director’s response appears below.

The Toronto International Film Festival Group emphatically condemns the abuse and torture of animals. The documentary CASUISTRY: THE ART OF KILLING A CAT has as its subject matter a sad and regrettable real-life incident that shocked and provoked strong feelings among many people.

The documentary neither glorifies nor condones the torture of animals. It does NOT show any of the actual, graphic video footage from this criminal event. It does include interviews with those who were outraged by this event including the detective who handled the case as well as committed animal-rights activists. People who have viewed the film – and that includes several Toronto journalists and our curators - indicate that it certainly does not allow room to sympathize with the actions of the convicted criminals portrayed in the documentary and shows them to be morally bankrupt.

The rights of Toronto audiences to engage in meaningful discussion about the issues of the day are inviolable. Film festivals exist, in part, to generate intelligent, reasoned discussion, not to stifle it. The Festival programming decision to show this documentary remains unchanged.

Noah Cowan
Toronto International Film Festival

In Defence of Animals: Action Alert

Dear Friend,

We sent an alert yesterday regarding the screening of "Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat" at the Toronto International Film Festival. By the looks of the replies from the film festival (see below), it appears that no further action is necessary. We find their assurances to be acceptable.

After we have the opportunity to see the film we will find out if this truly is the case. If necessary we will inform you to take action.

Screening a documentary at a film festival isn't the issue at hand. Disguising cruelty as artistic expression is. We urge everyone to act against the cruelties that inspired "Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat" and do what they can to prevent similar acts of cruelty in the future. Contact In Defense of Animals at for more information on what you can do.

Thank you to all who wrote. We appreciate all that you do for animals.

Press Release from the Toronto Humane Society

Toronto International Film Festival
Casuistry: The Art of Killing A Cat

Casuistry: The determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by analyzing cases that illustrate general ethical rules.

The cruelty inflicted on the cat Kensington was criminal and unspeakable. It is not art nor is it entertainment. Members of the artistic community need to come forward and condemn this animal cruelty crime, which masquerades as art.

The Toronto Humane Society is proud that it partnered with Toronto Police and the Ministry of the Attorney General in bringing the perpetrators of this act of cruelty to trial. The Toronto Humane Society offered and paid a substantial reward for the capture and conviction of one of the suspects who thought he had eluded prosecution.

Now the story of this horrid crime has been made into a documentary. The film is part of the Toronto International Film Festival and will be shown on September 14 and 17 at the Cumberland Theatre.

At our request, The Toronto International Film Festival showed us the film Casuistry: The Art of Killing A Cat on Thursday, September 2.

The film does not show the video of the cat skinning. It does show deceased animals and the decapitation of a chicken. As well, the written transcript from the cat skinning scrolls up the screen from time to time, an aspect of the film we found discomfiting.

Though the subject matter is disturbing and quite controversial, the film does not suggest that we should sympathize with or glorify the three culprits who committed this horrendous crime. The film does not tell the audience what it should think, but rather leaves us all with a great deal to think about. It compels us to ponder the very real issue of animal cruelty in our society, the laws currently in place, and of course, how anyone could do what Jesse Power, Anthony Ryan Wennekers and Matt Kaczorowski did to Kensington.

The Toronto Humane Society will not ask the Toronto Film Festival to pull this film from its schedule. We do hope that during the course of the film festival, film makers and the public will speak out against animal cruelty.

There is no question that the mere mention of the Kensington case brings with it public outcry and a feeling of helplessness. The Society would encourage Ontarians to write to their Member of Parliament and Premiere Dalton McGuinty demanding that the Liberal government strengthen Ontario’s antiquated and ineffective animal welfare laws.

Ignorance sparks fury over cat killer film
See the film before passing judgment


As a movie critic for this newspaper, I make every effort to adhere to what I hold to be a basic journalistic principle: I see the movies before I criticize them. In the past couple of weeks, for example, I have spent approximately 60 hours watching movies scheduled for this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Call me old-fashioned but I believe my credibility depends on me having actual first-hand experience of what I'm talking about. Any less, I would fully expect to be fired.

One of the film fest movies I screened is called Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat. It's a documentary about the notorious 2001 "cat-killing video" made in Toronto by three men who tortured a cat to death on video and passed it off as art. Because of its controversial subject, animal-rights activists in Toronto want the new documentary to be pulled from the festival.

Quite simply and unequivocally, director Zev Asher's movie does not endorse the actions of the would-be "artists." If anything, it sacrifices sensation for balance. It probes not just what happened and the ensuing criminal trial, but the alleged justifications for its occurrence. How could they do it? This is what any reasonable person would ask themselves, and this is what the movie asks as well. Moreover, it is the process of answering this that the title refers to.

Interestingly, no one attacking the film seems so far to have bothered to look up the meaning of "casuistry." Had they, the controversy might have been deservedly nipped in its skinny little bud. According to my dictionary, casuistry means "subtle but specious reasoning intended to rationalize or mislead." After opening with images from an infamous art video made in the 1980s by the renowned provocateur Istvan Kantor, in which dead cats are mutilated and used as props like hats, Casuistry offers a fairly steady, down-the-middle account of what happened in the Toronto incident.

The participants in the act are interviewed, and they make fairly weak and unconvincing arguments for the artistic imperative behind what they did. The cop who arrested them is interviewed, and he makes it clear he thinks the three men are creeps. Many animal-rights spokespeople are interviewed, and they are predictably passionate, angry and — in some cases — outright vengeful.

Then there are the images of cats. Asher's movie is full of images of cats: cats walking, cats sleeping, cats staring with cat-like inscrutability right at the camera. They punctuate the proceedings like a silent chorus, a conscience.

In the context of the film, their presence ensures the death of the cat, posthumously named Kensington, never becomes a mere issue or abstraction. They remind you that we're talking about a creature that lived, suffered horribly and died. Because of this, to consider the film as an endorsement of what the cat-killers did is absurd.

And the only way you could possibly come to that conclusion is by not having seen the movie.

Nevertheless, that is precisely the conclusion being widely and loudly arrived at. Just yesterday, on this newspaper's op-ed page, an article appeared under the headline, "Festival should pull plug on cat-killing movie." Authored by Rondi Adamson, the piece arrived at a number of bluntly expressed, indignantly held opinions about Casuistry — for instance, that it was about "sickos" the author hoped were undergoing "hours and hours of therapy" and the film ought to be pulled from the festival's lineup — despite one minor, niggling breach of journalistic methodology: Rondi Adamson has not seen the movie.

But that's okay. In fact, she's proud she hasn't. "I don't intend to," she wrote. "I can make a judgment. I am willing to make a judgment right now and stand by it.

"The movie is sick and I hope no one goes to see it."

For this, on my back pages, I would expect to be shown the door.

Meanwhile, the movie has become this week's hot-button, fur-flying sensation. In the same edition of our paper containing Adamson's sight-unseen condemnation of Casuistry, a reader's letter blasted the festival's "heart-sickening decision to show the cat torture video;" and under the "Darts and Laurels" on the opposite page, TIFF was darted "for nuttiness: organizers are using `freedom of expression' as an excuse to screen Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat, a film about the videotaped torture of a stray Toronto cat."

The documentary is being ranted about over talk radio airwaves, shouted over on local TV shows, and covered in all the daily newspapers. Yesterday, the Globe and Mail reported the festival programmer who selected the film, Sean Farnel, had received a death threat at his home. The anonymous caller, a woman, threatened to "skin him alive" and "shove knives in his eyes."

Apart from sheer, belligerent hysteria, the thread connecting all these eruptions is garden-variety ignorance. No one who has commented on the movie has seen it.

I have. That's why I'm shocked. But not by the "cat torture video," which — despite what the letter-reader and so many others have claimed — does not include footage showing the terrible death of Kensington the cat. (It shows a printed transcript of the events in the video, but not the event itself.) I'm shocked that so many people can get access to our local media outlets without having seen the film. I'm shocked that so much blatantly incorrect and easily checked information about the documentary has been printed as fact. And I'm shocked that this newspaper would let those unfounded and passionately biased opinions prevail on its pages.

And what are we to think when a newspaper throws darts at a film festival for defending its programming selections on the basis of freedom of expression?

I'm also shocked that this kind of unfounded, bullying and ignorant hysteria is becoming so common.

I've already experienced it twice this year: once when readers assailed me on the opening day of The Passion Of The Christ without having seen it, and again when readers attacked me for writing about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 after its premiere in Cannes, which was before anyone in this continent had seen it.

There is much to be embarrassed about in this sorry affair, and I sincerely hope it blows by with the furball speed that most irrational and sensationalist news-spasms do.

Meanwhile, I merely ask that someone do me the courtesy of enlightening me if I'm wrong about the way I'm doing my job. Gosh knows, if I can stop actually seeing movies and still have opinions, get prominent play on op-ed pages and still draw a paycheque for being a movie critic, I'm all for it.

It will give me a lot more time to spend at home with my dogs.

Don't kill this movie



I ADMIRE IT, I defend it: Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat should not be censored nor pulled from the Toronto International Film Festival. The film tackles a hot button Toronto topic: The 2001 animal cruelty case involving a student artist, Jesse Power, and two friends, Anthony Wennekers and Matt Kaczorowski. In the name of "art" and in front of Power's video camera, these three youths clumsily hung, tortured, stabbed, eviscerated, killed and finally skinned a stray cat that activists later named Kensington.

It was an unspeakable act. It was a crime. The three were eventually convicted of animal cruelty. Each served limited prison time. While Power claims to have a conceptual reason for staging this heinous act, the bestiality of the crime outraged animal lovers and became a lightning rod for debate on animal cruelty.

This is precisely why director Zev Asher and producer Linda Feesey's new film is a valuable, even enlightened document. Despite a burst of public hysteria and even threats against the festival programmer who chose it, the film belongs in the festival.

And it deserves high praise for its courage and intelligence.

It also must be stressed over and over again: While there are many disturbing images shown in the film -- including images from a 1980 Montreal "performance piece" in which two cats are killed, disembowelled and worn as hats -- Asher and Feesey do NOT show us Power's cat-killing video. Nor should they. In no way should this crime, and the video evidence, be celebrated.

But I do understand the emotional reactions generated since Sun columnist Mike Strobel -- an expert on the original cat-killing court case -- helped turn Casuistry into the 2004 festival's most notorious title a week ago. While emotion is no excuse for whoever telephoned threats of violence against Real To Reel programmer Sean Farnel, most concerned citizens are apparently worried that the film might glorify or at least justify the actions of the three.

No way. It does not.

The obscure word "casuistry" means "specious argument" -- or an attempt to rationalize the irrational -- and the film makes it clear there is no excuse, artistic or otherwise, for animal cruelty. So the call for the film to be pulled is an overreaction, perhaps naive and foolish, certainly misguided.

Some confusion may stem from the even-handed tone. The film allows key people involved -- Dct. John Margetson, two animal activists, two art curators who defended Power, plus the three cat killers -- to present their case. In this case, Asher and Feesey are traditional arm's-length documentarians who step back, unlike an in-your-face operator such as Michael Moore.

But that does not mean the film has no point. It methodically reveals how such a horrible thing can take place in our society -- in the name of art. There is profound insight at work here.

And the filmmakers do not just "buy" Power's argument that the video, intended as part of a series, was his attempt to show meat-eaters that animals must die to feed us (Power also spent a summer working on the killing floor of a Toronto abattoir and admits to a "mild kind of morbid fascination with dead animals").

Even the cat-killers don't defend themselves, admitting that their ineptness, in part due to hallucinogenic drugs, turned the episode into a fiasco. "It's pretty stupid," Wennekers says of what they did. "What a (profanity) (profanity) thing I did," Power says crudely. "We never revelled in the gore because there was nothing to revel in. It was just a horrible, ugly sight to see something in that state."

But human nature is complicated. We also hear Wennekers dismiss cats as "house ornaments." Power bitterly observes that his ultimate act -- ritualistically eating the cat meat -- was thwarted when police seized the dead animal out of his beer fridge. "I never got to eat the cat but a lot of other people are feasting on this cat."

So viewers must not look to Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat for simple conclusions. Nor for sensationalism. Instead it is a searing portrait of one of the darkest sides of human nature.

What follows is an email sent to Freedom for Animals by Toronto animal rights activist and artist Mirha-Soleil Ross who is interviewed in the documentary, “Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat.”

Open Letter to Freedom for Animals

Hi people,

I just saw an article my boyfriend brought home about Freedom for Animals' plans for a protest of the documentary "Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat" at the Toronto International Film Festival. Freedom for Animals is wrong and - I am sorry to say - fucked! This film is not the "cat killing film", it is a documentary about the issues and debate surrounding the Jesse Power case. The "cat-killing" film is not included as part of the documentary because the documentary makers were not able to get access to it. Since the documentary is about the debate over the killing and abuse of animals for "arts" purposes, I was interviewed as one artist who has spoken against that kind of gross art practice and specifically against Jesse Power and his supporters. I even pressured the documentary makers to do all they could to have access to the film and include it in the documentary because having it shown at a festival like the Toronto International Film Festival, in the context of a critical debate about it, would do more against animal cruelty and against Jesse Power than all Freedom of Animals and everyone else combined have been able to accomplish up until now. Isn't it what we want, to have people see the reality of animal cruelty and have that abuse and killing and slaughtering up for heated and strong debates? That's what PETA spends tons of energy and money on, trying to have images of animal abuse shown in mainstream contexts because these images speak more clearly and more powerfully than slogans and poems. All along that whole Jesse Power case, those of us who are animal rights activists and part of the arts' community have had to make the argument with other artists that our opposition to Jesse Powers and his torture of a cat had nothing to do with freedom of speech, that we weren't opposing the showing of a film but the killing and torturing of a cat as part of the making of a film. By Susan and her protest and her babbling inanities is simply undoing all that work we've tried to do since the beginning. By protesting that documentary, she is saying that people shouldn't have the right to have a debate on that very important case. It is like saying journalists shouldn't write about it for newspapers or talk about it as part of a TV debate.

While I am aware that Jesse Power will be getting more attention because of this documentary, it will be less attention than all he has gotten as a result of all the animal rights campaigning against him. I haven't seen the documentary so I cannot say how biased one way or the other the documentary makers were but at least in their press release they describe what Jesse Power did to the cat in gruesome and condemnatory terms. I don't know how much and how my comments or those of other animal rights people interviewed for the film will be included but if they didn't do a fair, balance job in terms of representing both sides, then we can trash the film and say it is biased. But until we've seen it and thought about it, we can't comment on it.

There is another video segment (dating back 20 years) included in the doc that features the slaughtering of two cats by another artist but again in that case, there is no point in protesting showing the images of it. To the contrary, the images SHOULD be shown so that we can then legitimately protest the artist who's killed the cats for that video decades ago. People need to see what they will protest.

If Freedom for Animals goes on with this protest, I will have to come out publicly and say that yes, Freedom for Animals and some animal rights activists are now trying to stop people from having a debate about the killing and torturing of animals by artists and that this is in total contradiction with all we stand for as activists: trying to expose animal abuse and force people to see the images of it and then talk about the issue. And let me assure everyone that if I show up there with a megaphone, I will be louder than 20 people if need be.

Mirha-Soleil Ross


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