The president of the province's largest union has been forced to resign, and its executive board dissolved, in the wake of a police investigation into an alleged sexual assault.
Abe Araya, who was elected president of CUPE Manitoba in November 2019, was arrested Jan. 21 in Winnipeg.
Brandon Police Service spokeswoman Sgt. Kirby Sararas said Wednesday the 46-year-old Araya was the subject of a BPS arrest warrant for a single charge of sexual assault.
Sararas said Araya has been released from custody and is scheduled to appear in Brandon provincial court April 1.
BPS opened an investigation in March 2020, after receiving a complaint of an incident alleged to have occurred in the city in February 2019.
"It is my understanding they were here for work purposes and staying at a local hotel," Sararas said, adding both Araya and the alleged victim are not from Brandon but "they were known to one another."
“It is my understanding they were here for work purposes and staying at a local hotel.” – Brandon Police Service spokeswoman Sgt. Kirby Sararas
Contacted by the Free Press, Araya said he would not comment but would "get somebody to contact you."
Defence counsel Saul Simmonds, who represents Araya, later said: "We are very surprised with the police."
"Mr. Araya maintains his innocence very strongly," Simmonds said. "This was a matter dealt with internally — he was exonerated after a thorough investigation. We feel this present step is completely unnecessary, but he will take solace in his innocence."
Karine Fortin, director of communications with the Canadian Union of Public Employees national office, said — on behalf of national president Mark Hancock — "We are aware there are charges brought against Abe Araya."
"We can't comment... because they are before the courts, but we are taking this seriously," Fortin said, adding, as soon as the criminal charge became known to the union, the national president asked Araya to step down.
She said the national union has put an administrator in place to look at the Manitoba branch's affairs.
"This was a matter dealt with internally ‐ he was exonerated after a thorough investigation. We feel this present step is completely unnecessary, but he will take solace in his innocence." – Defence counsel Saul Simmonds
"That means the executive has been dissolved and an administrator has been assigned until we can elect a new board... The administrator takes over the role of all the elected officials," Fortin said. "This has never happened with a provincial division before, but it has happened at a local level."
The dissolution does not mean the executive did anything in connection with the criminal allegations; the move was made because there can't be both an administrator and an executive at the same time, she said.
"I would not like to see it (the dissolving of the executive) as guilty by association."
There was yet no timetable for an election. "We will conduct a review to see if changes need to be made," Fortin said.
A message on the CUPE Manitoba website offers little information to its members.
The union represents 36,000 employees in several sectors, including health-care facilities, personal care homes, school divisions, municipal services, social services, child care centres, public utilities, libraries, and family emergency services.
"CUPE Manitoba is currently undergoing changes," the online message says.
"Rest assured, this in no way effects members’ representation at meetings with employers, bargaining, or CUPE’s advocacy in the workplace and community. CUPE members and locals will continue to receive the expert servicing you have come to expect from CUPE."
Araya, elected at the annual convention in 2019, originally came from CUPE Local 110, which represents about 400 custodians, maintenance workers and painters in the Winnipeg School Division.
At the time, Araya said: "Our union is stronger and more united than ever... Manitobans can count on CUPE to defend good jobs and fight for our public services."
A WSD spokeswoman said Wednesday she could not comment on the matter, nor what job Araya held when he worked for the school division.
Several representatives for local CUPE unions also refused comment, and directed inquiries to the national office.
Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said in a statement: "The MFL is aware that the CUPE MB executive is under administration and that CUPE national is ensuring that services for members continue."
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