Switched at birth at a Manitoba hospital more than 60 years ago, two men seek answers, compensation from the province
After learning they were switched at birth at a Manitoba hospital more than 60 years ago, two men are seeking answers and compensation from the province.
Last year, Edward Ambrose received a call from his sister who brought him some surprising news. Through a 23-and-Me DNA test, she had learned that Ambrose wasn’t her biological brother.
Instead, she discovered a brother of hers who lived in British Columbia. Richard Beauvais was born in Arborg, Man., in 1955 on the same day and in the same hospital as Ambrose.
“I wasn’t ready for that. It was a shock to me,” Ambrose told CBC. “It [hurt]like something was ripped out of me.”
Raised on a farm in Rembrandt, Man. by a Ukrainian family, Ambrose had a close relationship with the man he now calls his “bonded” father. As Ambrose looked at pictures of the family he grew up with, he said he couldn’t imagine not being a part of them.
“Growing up with them all these years — you’re family,” he said.
“We didn’t believe it”
However, Beauvais lived a very different life. Raised Métis Beauvais is a survivor of a dorm day school who was taken from his family in the Scoop of the Sixties.
He was shocked to learn that he was not of Cree and French descent, as he had believed all his life, but was in fact of Ukrainian, Jewish and Polish descent.
“We didn’t believe it at first,” Beauvais told CBC.
“I come from a time when being an Indian was a shame,” he said. “I felt like I lost something, because when you’re fighting so hard to be someone and all of a sudden you’re not that person — it sets you back.”
The experience was like a roller coaster ride, he said.
“It was very emotional for me to call my sisters and tell them I’m not their brother. That was hard.”
The two men work together with a lawyer. They want an apology and compensation for what they went through.
Her attorney, Bill Gange, told CBC he submitted that request to the province in April 2022. He received a reply from his lawyer in December, saying the province had no legal liability in this situation and would not offer the men compensation.
This isn’t the first case of children being switched at birth in Manitoba. Two other groups of Northern First Nations men learned they were exchanged at the government-run Norway House Indian Hospital in 1975.
Health Canada investigated both cases, and two of the men received financial compensation and support services from Ottawa.
Provincial response ‘shameful’
In an email to CBC, a representative for the Interlake-Eastern regional health authority said it was unable to comment on personal health information privacy laws. The province has not responded to CBC’s request for comment.
Beauvais says he doesn’t blame anyone for the hospital mix-up but called the province’s response “terrible”.
“I find it shameful that the government is not at least trying to help us fix this,” he said. “The lawyer has to fight for every square inch that we get.”
As a nation, our hearts go out to all of the people involved in this heartbreaking case. – President of the Manitoba Métis Federation, David Chartrand
Because he was believed to be indigenous, Beauvais said he experienced things that shouldn’t happen to anyone.
“There were times when he had to go to the dumps and look for food to feed his sisters,” Ambrose said, adding that Beauvais was fined for speaking his language at the school he attended.
As Beauvais struggles with the loss of his indigenous identity, Ambrose collects the pieces of his.
He hopes he and his daughter can become recognized citizens of the Manitoba Métis Federation, but said he’s not getting the help he needs from the province to change his birth certificate.
In a statement to CBC, federation president David Chartrand said he could not imagine the mental damage that both Ambrose and Beauvais have endured.
“As a nation, our hearts go out to all the people involved in this heartbreaking case,” he said. The MMF has a Sixties Scoop department and a wellness center that can offer support to victims of cases like hers, Chartrand said.
Ambrose said his bonded father would have taken both boys into his care had he known what Beauvais was going through.
He is now meeting his new sisters Leona and Valerie, although Ambrose said he had met Valerie before at a school in Stonewall.
“You didn’t choose her [for baseball], so I felt bad about it. So I told our team we’re going to take her.”
While provided with photos of his birth sisters by Beauvais, Ambrose said meeting them in person was a different experience.
“When you see her in person, you start to recognize yourself,” he said. “She has my cheeks. She has my features, my ears. She is my sister.”
Neither man had a chance to meet their birth parents, all of whom are dead. Ambrose said those experiences were taken from him.
“When I see my sisters, I see Mom and Dad,” he said. “That’s the only memory I’ll have, and whatever they’re going to tell me about them, that’s all I have.”
Both he and Beauvais lost 67 years of their lives, he said. And after so much loss, they get to know each other and their biological families.
But Beauvais said provincial action was needed for both men to move forward.
“We can’t do anything about the lost years, but they should give us back our future.”
WATCH / Men who passed birth in Manitoba demand accountability: