No criminal wrongdoing in switched-at-birth cases, Manitoba RCMP say

Manitoba RCMP have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing after investigating two cases of babies being switched at birth in the same year at Norway House Indian Hospital.

2 cases of babies being sent home with wrong parents occurred in 1975 at Norway House hospital

Norway House resident Leon Swanson weeps at a press conference in Winnipeg, Aug. 26, 2016. Swanson and David Tait Jr. were switched at birth in 1975 when their mothers gave birth at Norway House Indian Hospital. Two other men discovered in 2015 they were also switched in the same year at the same hospital. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Manitoba RCMP have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing after investigating two cases where babies were switched at birth in the same year at the same northern Manitoba hospital.

Norman Barkman, Luke Monias, Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr. — all born in 1975 at what was then called Norway House Indian Hospital — discovered only recently they had gone home with the wrong families.

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

No charges in switched-at-birth cases

5 years ago
Duration 1:38
Manitoba RCMP have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing after investigating two cases where babies were switched at birth in the same year at the same northern Manitoba hospital

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.

DNA tests confirmed that in both cases, the men had been switched at birth.

Mounties closed their investigation after interviewing former staff at the hospital, family members — including the mothers involved — and the four men's medical records.

An unfortunate accident

Officially, Manitoba RCMP believe what happened to Barkman, Monias, Swanson and Tait was and "unfortunate accident," said Staff Sgt. Jared Hall. 

There was no evidence of malice, Hall said — just tragic human error.

Before issuing a public release, Hall spoke with the four men to let them know the investigation was complete, he said.

"The last thing I wanted was in the end for us to be uncertain about it and not be able to give some sort of answer to these men and their families," said Hall.

Despite the fact no evidence of a crime was found, the four men and their families seemed to appreciate that police investigated what happened at the hospital, Hall said.

Health Canada report released

Health Canada also released the results of its own review into the switched-at-birth cases on Thursday.

The federal department found that in 1975, Norway House Indian Hospital did not place identification bands on babies in the room where they were born.

"In general we found the infant identification practices at that time were not very robust," said one of the report's authors, Dr. David Creery.

He and co-author Maura Davies concluded that there is no way of knowing for certain whether other babies born in Norway House were switched, but noted there were exceptional circumstances around the births of boths sets of babies switched in 1975.

Around the time the first two men were born, one of the mothers had a health concern and was transfered to Winnipeg and in the moments after the second pair was born power at the hospital went out, said Creery.

"We could not find that anyone did anything with the intent to cause harm," he said.

While only emergency births now occur at Norway House Hospital, Creery and Davies made recommendations for how the hospital, and any other Health Canada facility where births occur, could still improve in order to prevent infants from going home with the wrong parents.

The recommendations in the report include:

  • Implementing a number-matched four-band mother-infant bracelet system, with two bands on the baby (ankle and wrist) and bands on the parents.
  • Applying identification bands to the infant, mother and mother's partner (if present) in the delivery room immediately after birth, or as quickly as the clinical situation allows.
  • Training hospital staff to be highly compliant with the above process, with regular performance audits.

Creery noted Norway House Hospital has already begun to implement the recommendations including placing bands on mothers and babies right after delivery, "so there's no possibility that baby can be switched."

The hospital also practises a technique called "Rooming In" where babies and mothers sleep in the same room together to encourage bonding and reduce the chances that babies are misidentified. 

with files from Laura Glowacki and Susan Magas