Manitoba

4 Manitoba men switched at birth not satisfied after meeting with reviewers looking into mix-up

A spokesperson for the four Manitoba men who were switched at birth at the Norway House Hospital in the 1970s says recent meetings with officials looking into the case have left the men with few answers and struggling to cope.

'I don't think it was positive', says spokesperson for the men about the meetings

Leon Swanson weeps at a press conference in Winnipeg on Aug. 26, 2016. Swanson and David Tait Jr. were switched at birth in 1975 when their mothers gave birth at Norway House Indian Hospital. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

A spokesperson for the four Manitoba men who were switched at birth at the Norway House Hospital in the 1970s says recent meetings with officials looking into the case have left the men with few answers and struggling to cope. 

Independent clinical reviewers hired by the federal Health Department were in Manitoba last week to meet with the men. 

They were visiting to verify the information they've received and share initial findings of their review. It includes a look at hospital records available from that time period.

The reviewers held private meetings in Winnipeg and Norway House Cree Nation with the men, their families, legal counsel, and an elder who is providing support to them.

"I don't think it was positive," said Eric Robinson, former NDP Aboriginal and northern affairs minister and spokesperson for the four men. He was at one of the meetings and debriefed with all four men later.

"I think the intention was good to bring an update to the victims and their families about some of the findings they've made so far. ... I think [the men] are looking for something tangible that can be taken from there so it would not only address the issues they had to go through, but indeed also, as we step into the future, that the hospital will not make those same mistakes."

Robinson said he could not divulge what the men were told out of respect for their privacy and the process. Health Canada officials said details of the meetings will not be shared publicly. A final report is expected in May. It's unclear if that will be released to the public.

"The lives of four people and the lives of their parents and families [have been] taken away from them," Robinson said. 

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott ordered the independent review last November at a meeting with the four men. Her office had no comment. 

"We take this issue very seriously and are committed to supporting the individuals and families affected by these traumatic events," says a statement provided by Health Canada.

"The release of the findings will occur in a manner and at a time that is sensitive to and respectful of the men, their families and the community." 
Switched at birth victims (L to R) Leon Swanson, David Tait Jr., Norman Barkman, spokesperson Eric Robinson and Luke Monias (not pictured) met with federal Health Minister Jane Philpott last November. (Facebook)

The RCMP in Manitoba is also investigating. Investigators from the Major Crimes division are doing interviews and research to see if the incidents were accidental or criminal. No further details are available, says a statement.

In 2015, DNA tests confirmed Norman Barkman and Luke Monias had been raised by each other's parents, while Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr. made the same discovery last year.

Swanson and Tait were born three days apart — Swanson on Jan. 31, 1975, and Tait on Feb. 3, 1975 — at the Norway House Indian Hospital.

Both men know each other and were raised and continue to live in Norway House, a remote community about 460 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Monias and Barkman were born at the same hospital on June 19, 1975, and grew up as friends in the Garden Hill First Nation, also in northern Manitoba.

The men have been offered counseling and two of them have gone through treatment programs, but they have not been culturally appropriate, Robinson said, adding the men's first languages are Cree and Oji-Cree.

"It's been very difficult for them to live through this," he said.

"Some people are not always understanding about people's misfortune. ... Being made fun of, in some cases, is not the easiest thing to live with. At the same time, they feel they're being frowned upon. Some people have lost that sense of belonging to the families they thought were their families, they feel disconnected."

The men want a public apology delivered on behalf of the federal government by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His father was Prime Minister when they were born.

They won't accept one if it's offered by the health minister, Robinson said, adding legal action is still also under consideration.

Health Canada reports 239 babies were born in 1975 at the hospital in Norway House.

Health Canada is offering free DNA tests to anyone born at the hospital before 1980, which is when identification bands were introduced for newborns. The department won't say if anyone has requested one.

About the Author

Karen Pauls

National Reporter

Karen Pauls is an award-winning journalist who has been a national news reporter in Manitoba since 2004. She has travelled across Canada and around the world to do stories for CBC, including the 2011 Royal Wedding in London. Karen has worked in Washington and was the correspondent in Berlin, Germany, for three months in 2013, covering the selection of Pope Francis in Rome. Twitter @karenpaulscbc