Health Canada offers free DNA tests after 2nd switched at birth case

Health Canada offers free DNA tests to people born at Norway House Indian Hospital in northern Manitoba following recent revelations that a second pair of men had been switched at birth at the government-run facility 41 years ago.

Federal department says tests available to people born at northern Manitoba hospital in mid-1970s

A family member comforts Leon Swanson at a news conference in Winnipeg on Friday, as media learn he was one of two babies who were switched at birth in 1975. (CBC)

Health Canada is offering free DNA tests to people in northern Manitoba who suspect they may have been switched at birth at the Norway House Indian Hospital.

The news comes after a second pair of men recently learned they had been switched at birth at the government-run facility at the Norway House Cree Nation more than 40 years ago.

"The department will be offering DNA testing to any individuals born at Norway House Hospital in the mid-1970s. ‎Testing can be arranged directly with the regional office or through an individual's local health-care provider," a Health Canada spokesperson told CBC News in an email Tuesday.

The spokesperson also confirmed there will be no charge to getting the tests.

Norway House Cree Nation Chief Ron Evans is relieved Health Canada will cover the cost of the kits.

"I think it's about $780 per kit — that's not a small amount for a lot of people," Evans said.

"If one or two people come forward, then others will find the courage to do the same thing. So if there are others out there that are perhaps questioning their history, then it's a good thing that Health Canada is doing that."

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an organization that represents 30 First Nations in the province's north, says federal officials sent messages to her and other northern chiefs on Monday, advising them of the DNA test offer.

"It's good that they're going to be available. It's disheartening that it's a fact that they have to be available at all," North Wilson said.

"It should have never happened. There should have been very thorough care for our Indigenous families even back in the day, and clearly there wasn't."

Evans, an employee in transportation at the hospital in 1975, said he is working with federal officials to list people who were employed at Norway House at the time.

"It raises a lot of questions," he said. "I guess the main one is, you know, were those really honest mistakes or were they done maliciously?"

Men demand answers

Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr., both 41, have been demanding answers since DNA tests confirmed that they had each been raised by the other man's biological parents.

Swanson and Tait were born on Jan. 31, 1975, and Feb. 3, 1975, respectively at Norway House Indian Hospital, which was then run by the federal government.

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

"We don't have words," a distraught Tait told reporters on Friday. "Forty years gone … just distraught, confused angry."

Manitoba men weep after learning they were switched at birth 41 years ago

6 years ago
Duration 1:54
Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr. are both 41 years old and have just learned they're not exactly who they thought they were.

Tait, Swanson and their families decided to have DNA tests done after learning about Luke Monias and Norman Barkman, who discovered last year that they were not the biological children of their parents.

Monias and Barkman, who are from the Garden Hill First Nation, were also born in 1975 — five months after Swanson and Tait — at the same Norway House hospital.

Shortly after Tait and Swanson spoke publicly about their case, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said a third-party investigation will be launched to try to determine what happened.

As well, the department spokesperson said Tuesday: "Health Canada has been working to review files and historical documents from the hospital during this time period and will be moving quickly to engage the services of an independent third party to do a dedicated and thorough investigation of these records to determine what happened. The results of this review will be made public." 

Health Canada says it is not aware of any other "switched at birth" cases at this time.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson