Canadian friends find out they were switched at birth

Leon Swanson (left) and David Tait Jr in screenshots from online reports.
Leon Swanson (left) and David Tait Jr in screenshots from online reports.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

MONTREAL (AFP) - After living 41 years as friends, two indigenous Canadians have confirmed that they were switched at birth.

Recent DNA tests showed that one man was raised by the biological mother of the other, news confirmed by a Manitoba indigenous politician, Eric Robinson, the province's former minister of indigenous affairs.

"What happened here is lives were stolen," Robinson told reporters on Friday (Aug 26). "You can't describe it as anything less than that.

The mistake is the second case of the government-managed Norway House Indian hospital - exchanging babies at birth in a village of some 5,000 residents located more than 450km north of Winnipeg by air.

Leon Swanson was born Jan 31, 1975, at the Norway House, and three days later David Tait Jr. was born at the same facility.

"I want answers, I want answers," said Tait through tears.

"We don't have words," he told journalists. "Forty years gone... just distraught, confused, angry."

Genetic tests confirmed that Tait was the biological child of Charlotte Mason, the woman who raised Swanson.

Swanson is still waiting for tests results, but the families said they are sure of the swap.

In a similar case last November, Luke Monias and Norman Barkman from Garden Hill First Nation - both born five months before Swanson and Tait - also learned from DNA testing that they were switched at birth.

That case prompted Swanson, Tait and their families to seek out genetic testing based on suspicions that the men might have been swapped because of traits shared with the opposite parents.

"I can't describe this matter as anything less than criminal," Robinson said. "We can live with one mistake, but two mistakes of a similar nature is not acceptable."

Canadian federal health minister Jane Philpott said in a statement on Friday (Aug 26) that a third-party investigation would look into the case.

"Cases like this are an unfortunate reminder to Canadians of how urgent the need is to provide all indigenous people with high-quality health care," Philpott said in the release.

Philpott also offered DNA testing to those people born at the hospital in the 1970s.

Indigenous people represent just 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population - some 1.4 million people - but are more likely to be victims of homicide or assault, as well as economic and social inequalities.