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Switched at Birth — Proving Your Identity with a Paternity Test

It’s not unusual to wonder who your parents are. For four Canadian Aboriginal men switched at birth, proving their identity was life changing.

Innocent Children Had Identities Stolen 

Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr. found out their identities were fake at 41. The Norway House, Manitoba, men were born within four days of each other in 1975. Luke Monias and Norman Barkman were 40 when they discovered the truth about their heritage. Manitoba’s aboriginal and northern affairs minister Eric Robinson called it a case of stolen identity.

Losing Identity Serious

Giving a baby to the wrong parents seems like the stuff of movies, but it was real life for them. “The mental, physical and the spiritual well-being of both men has been deeply affected by the loss of their proper identity, and the effects upon their immediate and extended families is just as serious,” Robinson said in 2015, when the first case was discovered. Then Health Minister Dr. Jane Philpott was investigating how it happened.

Life in Cold, Remote North

Temperatures in the remote northern community, a five-hour drive from Winnipeg, can hit close to minus 50 C in January and February, when Swanson and Tait were born. Remains of the former Hudson’s Bay fort at Norway House, the major overland trading route to the Athabasca River, were designated a National Historic Site in 1932. Today, the village centre has 300 residents and the nearby Norway 17 Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation reserve over 4,700. 

Federal Hospital Canada’s Oldest 

Norway House Indian Hospital, Canada’s longest federally owned and operated hospital, sprawls across the banks of the Nelson River. It’s older and becoming obsolete. Excavation has started on the replacement, a contemporary Health Centre of Excellence better connected to Aboriginal residents’ heritage, land, culture and people. Monias’ and Barkmans’ mothers were flown into the hospital in June 1975 from Garden Hill First Nations, seven reserves clustered on the shore of Island Lake, accessible only by winter ice roads or air.

Thought it Was a Joke

Monias laughs now about the rumours that circulated that he and his close friend Barkman didn’t really resemble their supposed birth families. “I thought that it was a joke, rumours. I didn’t take it seriously until recently.” Monias’ biological mother Rebecca Barkman participated in the DNA tests that confirmed they had been sent home with the wrong mothers. Garden Hill First Nation Chief Arnold Flett says the community is shocked. “How do we move forward with this?” he asked (CBC News, Nov. 13, 2015).

Confused, Angry at DNA Results

Swanson and Tait wept when Robinson introduced them nine months later at a 2016 news conference. They had heard about Monias and Barkman and ordered their own DNA tests. “We don’t have words,” Tait said (CBC News, Aug. 26, 2016). “Forty years gone … just distraught, confused, angry.” Robinson called it criminal but a RCMP investigation was closed after finding no evidence it was. Health Canada is offering free legal paternity tests to anyone born at the hospital pre-1980.

Proving Paternity a Legal Matter

Proving your identity is more complicated than simply ordering a test off the Internet. Legal paternity tests used in Ontario courts require that testing facilities trace everyone who handles a DNA sample from the moment it is given. Home DNA testing kits can be contaminated by anyone who touches them or even faked.

Right 99% of the Time

Legal paternity tests are considered 99% accurate if a sample has DNA from the alleged biological father. While the mother’s DNA is not required, very occasionally not having it produces a false result.

Test is Not Hard At All

Taking a test is no big deal. It just involves a quick swab of an inside cheek. The sample is sealed and sent to a testing lab. Results come back in three weeks or less. Government-issued ID is required at the time to ensure the sample isn’t part of an identity scam.

Why Paternity Matters

Courts may order a partner to get a legal DNA test under Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act when you apply for child support or ask for child custody or access. A married spouse or common-law partner in Ontario is presumed to be the biological parent unless otherwise proven. Courts also consider who is registered as the parent on the child’s birth certificate. Your Canada child benefit payments and child tax benefits from the Canada Revenue Agency may be affected if you can’t prove a child is yours.  

Don’t Delay Testing Your DNA  

Who knows what really happened in 1975 to Swanson, Tait, Monias and Blackburn? Although they grew up together, it’s a bit late for them to bond with their birth mothers. But it’s never too late to find out who you really are. 

Confirm Your Identity with a Notary Seal

Axess Law’s Ontario notary publics put their seal on your identity by witnessing birth certificates and other statutory documents. Our licensed lawyers are available for online video call appointments 7 days a week, day or evening. Make an appointment by dialing 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form. You can meet in person at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s notary public services.

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