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RCMP investigating switched-at-birth cases in Manitoba

Manitoba's former aboriginal affairs minister Eric Robinson, centre, with Norway House residents Leon Swanson, left, and David Tait Jr. announces at a press conference in Winnipeg on Friday, August 26, 2016 that the two men were switched at birth in 1975 when their mothers gave birth at Norway House Indian Hospital.


A criminal investigation is under way into two separate cases of babies being switched at birth at a northern Manitoba hospital within six months in the 1970s.

RCMP spokesman Robert Cyrenne said there is no specific indication of criminal activity at this point, but the force believes there is an obligation to the families and the public to find out what occurred and determine whether there was criminal intent.

He said the investigation is being done by officers based in Winnipeg, and is in its very early stages. The first case came to light in November, 2015, after two men from the remote Garden Hill First Nation confirmed through DNA tests that they had been switched at birth, and had been raised by each other's families.

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Luke Monias and Norman Barkman were born at the Norway House Indian Hospital, a federally operated facility, on the same day in June, 1975. As they grew up, people in the small, fly-in community where they lived would often note the resemblance to the other's family.

The men finally got DNA testing in 2015 with the help of then-Aboriginal Affairs minister Eric Robinson, who is from the area and was born in the same hospital. Speaking to reporters after the results came back in November, 2015, Mr. Robinson called the situation "shocking and unbelievable."

"The mental, physical and spiritual well-being of both men has been deeply affected by the loss of their proper identity," Mr. Robinson told reporters then. "The effects on their immediate and extended families is just as serious."

A second, nearly identical case then emerged in August, involving two men who had been born at the same hospital five months before Mr. Monias and Mr. Barkman in 1975.

David Tait Jr. and Leon Swanson were born three days apart – Mr. Swanson on Jan. 31, 1975, and Mr. Tait on Feb. 3, 1975. Both were residents of the Norway House Cree Nation, and knew each other throughout their lives. There, too, people often noticed their resemblances to each other's families, and the men got DNA testing done after the first switched-at-birth case became public.

The results confirmed Mr. Tait and Mr. Swanson had been sent home with the wrong families.

Mr. Robinson has said he believes the cases to have been criminal, and has described the men as being victims of "stolen identities." He has also questioned whether there may be other cases that have not yet been discovered.

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"We can live with one mistake, but two mistakes of a similar nature is not acceptable," he said, when the second case became public in August. "We can't slough it off as being a mistake."

Health Canada is now offering free DNA testing to people born at the hospital in that period. The agency is also launching an independent investigation into the two cases, and has said the results will be made public. Mr. Cyrenne said the RCMP investigation will be separate.

Mr. Cyrenne said investigators do face significant challenges looking into cases that happened more than 40 years ago. Some people who were involved, including both Mr. Monias's biological father and Mr. Barkman's biological mother, are deceased.

RCMP are asking people who worked at the hospital at the time or may have information about the situation to come forward.

Mr. Robinson has said the situations have had a profound effect on the men, their families, and their communities, and many are asking how it could have occurred. Mr. Tait wept as he spoke to media in August.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," he said then, during an emotional press conference. "If anything [I'm] angry, confused, upset. I'd like to get some answers on what's going on."

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Mr. Swanson also wept but could not speak, repeating only: "I don't know what to say."

Norway House is located about 450 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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