WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - For the second time in less than a year, two men from the same remote Canadian community have discovered they were switched at birth, prompting outrage and new questions about substandard healthcare for Canada’s indigenous people.
David Tait and Leon Swanson were swapped in the government-run Norway House Hospital in 1975 in the western Canadian province of Manitoba, DNA testing confirmed.
“I want answers so bad,” Tait said, choking back tears at a press conference in Winnipeg on Friday. He added that he felt “distraught, confused (and) angry.”
Tait’s biological mother ended up raising Swanson instead, and Swanson’s birth mother raised Tait, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported.
Norway House is made up of two northern Manitoba communities and has a population of about 5,000 predominantly indigenous Cree Nation people. It is accessible by airplane and a long indirect road linking it with Winnipeg, about 500 miles (800 km) to the south.
In November, the Manitoba government said two other men who were close friends were also switched at birth in 1975, at the same Norway House Hospital. As they grew up, people noticed how they resembled each other’s family more than their own.
Eric Robinson, a former Manitoba cabinet minister who is helping the men in the latest case, said there were always suspicions in the community about their parentage. He suspects there are more undiscovered cases.
“The federal government owes these people,” he told reporters. “What happened to them is criminal.”
Canada’s health department operates the Norway House hospital.
Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott said the second case “deeply troubled” her. She said the health department would hire an independent party to investigate hospital records and look into whether there are other such cases.
“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 a statement.
Canada’s 1.4 million indigenous people often live in dire social and economic conditions with subpar health and education services.
Practices to ensure the identities of newborns have improved since the 1970s, and Norway House Hospital now fits infants with identification bands, the health department said in a statement.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by Tom Brown