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Who Killed Linda Tatrai?

By Lee Lakeman
February 1985

Linda Joyce Tatrai was 18 years old when she was stabbed and left to die in an underground parking lot in the 1400-block of East Broadway in 1985

Who Killed Linda? 

Everybody is sad and upset about Linda Tatrai’s death. Even local columnist, Denny Boyd, is upset, although he blames her for her own death. Everybody knows that it is an unusual occurrence in Vancouver for a woman to be knifed to death. Everybody knows that this death has something to do with the fact that Linda was trapped by men who sold her cocaine and by men who bought and sold her body. But the people here tonight also know that this death had something to do with the government that controlled those drugs and where and when and to whom she must sell her body.

Everybody here knows that we are being invited to think that all women can be raped and killed whenever men feel like it and that we can do nothing to prevent that. Or we are being invited to think that Linda was a ‘special’ woman, killed because she was ‘special’, because she was a prostitute. It is suggested to us that as long as we don’t look like Linda, walk where Linda walked, we are safe. We are invited to think that Linda voluntarily hung around with a special, dangerous man and that as long as we take only prescribed drugs and hang out with ‘average’ men, we are safe.

The people in this crowd know that all women in Vancouver have to fear rape. Canadian statistics tell us that one woman is raped every 17 minutes. Of those, many are seriously hurt and some have been murdered, mostly by men that they knew. No one here will excuse the one man who took a knife to this woman in an underground parking lot. It is not especially important to us whether he was trying to prove that no one could challenge his control of his drug property. We are here to protest his exercise of control over Linda’s body. The terrorist who did this to her was not acting alone.

Linda didn’t like prostitution. She said so. She was abused as a child. She was fed drugs as a young teenager. We accuse the men who abused that child. We accuse the men who profited from the sale of those drugs and forced her to find the money to pay for them. We accuse the men who paid her to act like she didn’t care about herself, to act like she didn’t care about sex, to act like she didn’t have the same romantic dreams as any other 18 year old woman. We accuse the men who paid her to act out their pornographic version of women. We accuse Jim Pattison and the other pornographers and profiteers who supply Vancouver with stupid and dangerous materials in magazines and videos so that men can think that their pornographic fantasies are normal. These collaborators exist in every North American city, but Linda lived in Vancouver in 1985.

She was coming of age in the years when Red Hot Video moved into town. Three or four blocks from here, up Main Street, damaging video pornography is now available 24 hours a day. She was 17 when the ‘Socreds’ (Social Credit provincial government )decided to cut off money to the women’s groups which could be a limited source of comfort, of birth control information, of emergency shelter, of older, more experienced women to talk to, and of a resistance movement to fight for her rights. She was 17 when Vancouver city government and the ‘Socreds’ cooperated with each other in exiling street prostitutes from the West End. The governments told us that the citizens of the West End had a right not to see her trap.  They told us that Linda and the other young prostitutes were special. They called them a ‘nuisance’ to the public. Those governors told us that there was nothing wrong with prostitution, only that they wanted her ‘customers’ (and they do call them customers) not to pee on their sidewalks, not to drive their cars down West End alleys, not to be so noticeable. They said that they didn’t want the West End to become a ‘red light district’.  (They did not tell us that they wanted a red light district but not in light industrial areas and not in the west end)

So, the ‘Socreds’ cut off money to the Emergency Services office and the Child Abuse Teams and they invented the injunction (a court order that 30 named people be restricted from the area). We know that Linda was still legally a child. We know that they wrote her name and the names of 30 others on the injunction list. Before they even had an injunction, they posted those 30 names on public telephone poles and in welfare offices, and we know what that means. This is the 1984 version of branding her as a ‘scarlet woman’. It meant that they gave public permission for men to believe that she was separate from other women and to believe that she had been abandoned by her community to their sexist abuse. It meant that she was forced to move, under pain of prison, from the West End streets. On Davie Street, she looked like the rest of the kids and therefore any man approaching would have less permission to treat her as sub-human. It also meant that she was not annoying any residents of the West End by selling her body publicly or buying her drugs on their apartment stairs. But nobody here thinks that it is a big improvement that she was forced to stand on street corners alone along Broadway, where there are no cafes open, no theatre lineups, no rowdy kids to be ordinary among. And nobody here thinks that it is a big improvement that she walked into an underground parking lot alone, where no one could complain about the noise, to be murdered.

Mayor Harcourt and Premier Bennett will tell us, in fact they already have, that the injunction is the fault of the West End residents. And I agree that there is blame on the people who valued their property rights over the terrible plight of young men and women being prostituted in the West End. The people of the West End can be blamed, too, for trying to solve a noise and rowdiness problem by exiling part of their population. But Harcourt and Bennett are trying to deceive us. They pretend that they are ever responsible to the ordinary working people who live in this city. We know that they used the residents of the West End. They gave money to the man behind CROWE (a neighbourhood group protesting the presence of prostitutes) to whip up the West End residents against the prostitutes. They needed an excuse for the injunction. They were way ahead of us. They were planning for Expo 86, and they have big plans!

They plan to have a ‘red light district’ where prostitutes would be easily found by tourists, where johns would be more anonymous to the public, and where the fight between pimps for the Expo dollars would be less visible to us. They plan to have extra power in the hands of the police to harass and bully any of us who might want to protest Expo 86 or anything else. They plan to spend our social service money on this idiot mega-project and to hell with Linda and the rest of us in need.

They plan to limit our ability to fight back by breaking unions, women’s centres and progressive movements. They plan to serve landowners and developers and to ignore our need for housing. They plan to maintain prostitution as a calling card to the tourists. They knew that the pimps would arrive in droves before Expo. In the West End it was more difficult for pimps to operate because there were more places for young sex slaves to run. The activity of the women trapped in prostitution was highly visible. Do you know that the young boy prostitutes are now in clubs subject to club owner pimps? Do you know where the women from Georgia Street went? The men responsible for the injunction are responsible for driving Linda and other young women into dangerous businesses and or into isolation where they can be picked off one by one by violent, determined profiteers.

Vancouver has never been particularly generous to, or safe for, women. Paid employment has been hard to find, human services hard to get and we are a port city. Everywhere in the world, men lurk in port cities trapping women into sexual slavery. This year, our city is getting worse for all women. Not only do we have to deal with the men in our community who refuse to support our rights and those who openly attack us, but we are also being made subject to the abuse of more men. Already we experience the addition of the drug sellers, the porn sellers, and the pimps who plan to control a playground for the men tourists yet to come with Expo. Already we are being notified by stories in our newspapers that the male American tourists carry guns and we don’t for a minute believe that they will be checking them at the border.

We believe that Linda has paid for Expo. It is important that we face these facts as women and as a community. The ‘Socreds’ did not succeed in crushing the resistance movement in our city. Everyone must turn the shock and sorrow of this young woman’s murder into activity. Tonight, Rape Relief has called you together. From this corner of Broadway and Main, we could go in several directions: up Main to Red Hot Video; west on Broadway to City Hall and other government offices; down Main to the Expo site or back to the West End. For tonight, we plan to take the way east of here, to break the isolation of the young women still abandoned there in hopes that we can make this night less fearful, less dangerous. But every day there must be more and more activity planned against Red Hot Video, against the importing of hate literature against women, against the developers, against the power of the police, and against Expo.

Make sure that you are part of this activity. Wear the Public Nuisance # 31 stickers to let people know that you understand the function of the injunction and that you refuse to let these 30 people be picked off. Talk to the people who are protesting with you tonight, leave your name with the organizers. Organize against prostitution and for the prostitutes, organize against violence against women. Expo is probably going to happen, but we can still find ways to minimize its harm on our city. Tonight it may be difficult to know exactly what to do. Our enemies are numerous and powerful. But we are already taking a step by being together. Get together again and again and again. We have no right to despair. Young women’s lives are at stake.

From a speech given by Lee Lakeman, Vancouver Rape Relief collective member, at a rally on the corner of Broadway and Main, Vancouver, B.C.

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