The family of a recent Winnipeg homicide victim stumbled across a Facebook video last week which showed the young man’s gravesite being desecrated.
Justice officials say it’s an alarming sign that gang tensions in the city are no longer confined to the streets and have apparently spilled over into cemeteries in some cases.
Police have now charged an 18-year-old man with the rare offence of causing indignity to a dead body, in addition to mischief. Derek Warcimaga appeared in bail court Monday where the allegations were laid out by the Crown. There was no publication ban in place. The allegations have not been proven and he is presumed innocent.
"Well, certainly the circumstances are disturbing to say the least," said provincial court Judge Rob Finlayson.
Crown attorney Jeff Nichols said the mother and sister of 16-year-old Paris Bruce found the video posted on Warcimaga’s Facebook page and immediately notified police. A man can be seen running towards Bruce’s grave, kicking over flowers and other objects that had been left by loved ones, and then urinating on the site.
Someone else present at the Brookside Cemetery during the Apr. 30 daytime incident was operating the camera, court was told.
Bruce was severely beaten last September while walking down a sidewalk in the 300 block of Aberdeen Avenue just after 8 a.m. He died several days later in hospital. Six young men, all with ties to the Indian Posse street gang, have been charged with his slaying. Bruce had links to a rival gang, and police believe his attack was linked to ongoing battles over the sales of the drug trade in Winnipeg.
Warcimaga’s lawyer told court Monday his client was upset because he went to the cemetery to visit his cousin, who was also the victim of a recent gang-related homicide, only to find the man’s gravesite had been trashed. That prompted him to lash out at the nearby burial site of Bruce.
"There’s no positive light I can put on something like that," the lawyer told Finlayson.
"I think the less you say about that, probably, the better," the judge advised.
Sources say this type of incident is rare but could pour proverbial gasoline on the already red-hot gang situation in the city.
Warcimaga was released on bail Monday, despite objections from the Crown who wanted him to remain behind bars. He has no prior criminal record, and Finlayson agreed to allow him to reside with his grandfather, post a $1,000 surety and imposed a nightly 6 p.m. curfew.
Warcimaga was already pending on other criminal charges after police discovered a stolen semi-automatic rifle stashed inside a garage in September 2012. He was released on a promise to appear in court, only to be re-arrested last month after missing a scheduled court appearance. He was released once again on Apr. 10.
As the Free Press reported earlier this month, Winnipeg gang members and associates are increasingly using social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Bebo to boast about their criminal ways and intimidate rivals. Police have also stepped up their online presence in an attempt to monitor the ongoing hostilities.
There have been several local arrests in recent years as a direct result of Internet postings. But this is believed to be the first case of its kind involving a cemetery desecration.