CUPE Manitoba president removed following sexual assault allegation, refusal to step down
Abe Araya removed, entire executive dissolved after allegation of 2019 assault in Brandon
The president of Manitoba's largest union has been removed, along with the entire executive, after he was arrested for an alleged sexual assault.
Abe Araya, 46, who served as president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba, was arrested on a single count of sexual assault, Brandon Police Service spokeswoman Sgt. Kirby Sararas said Wednesday.
The incident is alleged to have occurred in Brandon, Man., in Feb. 2019. The CUPE Manitoba president was arrested on Jan. 21, 2021, in Winnipeg.
Araya deferred an interview request to his lawyer, Saul Simmonds, who insisted his client did nothing wrong.
"From our perspective, Mr. Araya has very clearly maintained his innocence throughout," Simmonds said Thursday.
"There has been a comprehensive and intense internal investigation, which resulted in him being exonerated."
Karine Fortin, spokesperson for the CUPE's national office, said a grievance filed against Araya was resolved, but she couldn't reveal the nature of the complaint or its result.
The national office took action after it learned of Araya's arrest last week, she said Wednesday.
"After we found out about the charges, we asked him to step down from his position."
He refused, which prompted a meeting between CUPE national president Mark Hancock and the 17 members of the Manitoba executive.
Fortin said the decision to dissolve the CUPE Manitoba executive board and remove those members from their positions, which took effect Tuesday, was not made lightly. She said this was the first time CUPE has placed a provincial division under administration, which requires the dismissal of the president and all board members.
An administrator — in this case, a CUPE staff member — will temporarily assume responsibility until a new board is elected at a convention. The next convention is scheduled to take place in April.
"Obviously, criminal charges and sexual assault charges have to be taken seriously," Fortin said.
"For us, there was no question that we needed to take a step back and make sure everything was done to ensure a safe workplace for our employees and also a healthy and safe union for our members."
Fortin said the union's activities will not be affected by the management shakeup.
Araya was elected president of CUPE Manitoba in November 2019. Before his election, he served with CUPE Local 110, which represents custodians, maintenance workers and painters at the Winnipeg School Division.
Victims need to feel heard: CUPE
On Thursday, a notice on the CUPE Manitoba website urged members not to speculate or spread rumours about the charge facing Araya.
It said that only the provincial division was placed under administration, not any of the individual CUPE locals in Manitoba.
The administration period will give CUPE a chance to review its operations, and to review its internal ombudsperson program to ensure victims feel safe to report incidents, no matter how serious, the notice said.
"With these challenges we are committed to building a stronger union for everyone."
Brandon police began investigating the alleged assault in March 2020. Araya been released from custody and is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Brandon on April 1.
The complainant declined to speak with CBC News.