Abe Araya is pictured in an undated image (Image source: CUPE.ca)

The president of one of Manitoba's largest unions is facing a sexual assault charge.

The Brandon Police Service confirmed Abe Araya was arrested in Winnipeg on January 21, 2021, on a charge of sexual assault.

Sgt. Kirby Sararas, a spokesperson for the Brandon Police Service, told CTV News the incident allegedly occurred in Brandon in February 2019, and was reported to police in March 2020.

Sararas said Araya has since been released from custody.

Araya was elected president of CUPE Manitoba in November of 2019. 

"Mr. Araya maintains his innocence. He will vigorously defend any of these false allegations," Araya's lawyer Saul Simmonds told CTV News.

Simmonds said there had been a previous internal investigation which exonerated Araya. Simmonds would not expand on details regarding the internal investigation.

"He will defend himself and his reputation at the appropriate time."

Karine Fortin, the director of communications for CUPE National, confirmed a CUPE Manitoba employee filed a grievance against Araya in the summer of 2020, which has since been resolved. Fortin said she is not able to comment on the contents of the grievance or confirm if they are in any way connected to the charge against Araya.

Fortin said the union was told of the charge only a few days ago and asked Araya to step down as president, something he refused.

"We take charges of that nature very seriously and thought it best to act quickly to make sure that CUPE Manitoba staff and CUPE members in Manitoba had a safe workplace and services they deserved," Fortin said. 

"Their needs were our focus."

Fortin said the entire CUPE Manitoba executive board has been dissolved and the union has been placed under an administrator who will step in and take over the duties of the executive board until an election can be organized.

Araya is scheduled to appear in court in Brandon on April 1.