More questions for Manitoba men switched at birth

NORWAY HOUSE, Man. — The families of four men who were switched at birth and sent home from a northern Manitoba hospital with the wrong parents said they were left with more questions than answers Thursday after reviews by the RCMP and Health Canada.

Manitoba RCMP said no charges will be laid in the two mixups at the Norway House Indian Hospital in 1975 because there is no evidence that what happened was a criminal offence.

Health Canada said its review found that the switches appear to have been accidental. The hospital did not seem to ensure identification bands were placed on newborn babies’ ankles at the time.

“The families are of the view that, due to the passage of time, they will never have a complete understanding of the events that led to the misidentification,” Bill Gange, lawyer for the families, wrote in a statement.

“The information gathered by the investigators has left the families filled with questions of what would their lives have been like if the Norway House hospital had followed standard procedures common in birthing centres in 1975.”

The switches only came to light in the last two years.

Luke Monias and Norman Barkman of Garden Hill First Nation, a fly-in community 400 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, revealed in November 2015 that DNA tests proved they were switched at birth.

Two other men from Norway House Cree Nation, Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr., came forward with the same story in August 2016. Results from DNA tests confirmed their switch.

The two cases, which occurred months apart, raised the question of whether other babies could have ended up with the wrong families. Health Canada reports 239 babies were born at the hospital that year, but no other cases have come to light.

When the second case became public a year ago, former health minister Jane Philpott called the situation tragic and appalling, and promised to get to the bottom of what happened.

The federal report said there was conflicting information about the exact process at the hospital in 1975, but it appears identification procedures were not followed in the two cases.

“The reviewers heard from multiple interviewees that the identity band was not routinely placed on the infant immediately after birth in the room where the infant had been born,” the report states.

“The identification band process was not used consistently and the identification bands were not put on the baby in the room where the baby was delivered.”

The report also noted that immediately after the birth of a healthy baby, the infant would be taken to the nursery to be weighed and measured.

At an emotional news conference a year ago, Tait Jr. said he was desperately searching for answers.

“Forty years gone,” he said, barely able to speak through his tears. “It’s pretty tough. It hit me like a ton of bricks. If anything, (I’m) angry, confused, upset. I’d like to get some answers on what’s going on.”

DNA evidence confirmed that Tait Jr., 41, is the son of Charlotte Mason — the woman who raised Swanson as her son — and not Frances Tait. They also confirmed that Swanson, Tait Jr.’s life-long friend, is the biological son of Frances Tait.

Monias and Barkman were born on the same day and, growing up, the two were often told they looked more like the other boy’s family.

Manitoba’s former Aboriginal affairs minister Eric Robinson, who acted as a liaison for the families, suggested Thursday that the mix-up was tied to racism and neglect at the country’s few Indian hospitals in the 1970s.

“Regrettably, it shows that Indian people received second-rate treatment when it came to health in those days and perhaps, some would argue, to this day.”

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