Toronto-based Viaguard Accu-Metrics determined Snoopy the chihuahua had Indigenous ancestry after it was sent the dog’s DNA sample under a human’s name. (Louis Côté) The same Toronto forensics lab that allegedly determined a chihuahua and a French poodle have Indigenous ancestry recruited Sixties Scoop survivors and Motherisk victims for lawsuits using what appears to be a phoney Facebook identity, a CBC News investigation has found.
In at least one case, Viaguard Accu-Metrics owner Harvey Tenenbaum sent a Sixties Scoop survivor a retainer agreement from his son’s law firm that required a 33.3 per cent cut of any settlement. The lawsuit never materialized.
Another survivor who spoke with Tenenbaum said he was led to believe he could earn a multimillion-dollar payout, but instead was left bitter and broken.
"False hope can destroy people," said Steve Maher, 45, an Oji-Cree survivor from the Peterborough, Ont., area who says Tenenbaum carelessly dredged up painful thoughts about his past that sent him spiralling into drink and depression. Tips from DNA story
CBC first reported on Viaguard Accu-Metrics in June after receiving tips about odd results from the company’s Native American DNA tests.
Two men in Quebec both claimed they sent in DNA samples from their dogs — labelled with human names — that came back with positive results for Indigenous ancestry.
CBC sent samples to Viaguard from two employees born in India and one born in Russia. The results indicated all three employees were 12 per cent Abanaki and eight per cent Mohawk. A different DNA testing company later determined that none of the employees had any trace of Indigenous ancestry.
Viaguard defended its testing methods but stopped advertising its Native American DNA tests shortly after the story was published.
The investigation led to tips about the company’s role in organizing lawsuits. The mystery of ‘Carl Lee’
Maher said last fall he received a Facebook message from a user named "Carl Lee" asking if he was a Sixties Scoop survivor.
The Sixties Scoop was a period from the 1950s to the 1980s when thousands of Indigenous children were seized by provincial child-welfare agencies and adopted out to non-Indigenous families.
Maher is a survivor and was intrigued by the message. He began communicating with the Carl Lee account, which told him a lawsuit was in the works for survivors and their biological mothers. Maher provided his biological mother’s phone number. Harvey Tenenbaum heads Toronto-based Viaguard Accu-Metrics. He didn’t respond to requests for an interview for this story. (Viaguard/YouTube) Sometime between Nov. 10 and 14, Maher said he received a phone call from Tenenbaum.
Tenenbaum told him that, if successful, the lawsuit against the federal government could net him and his biological mother $2.5 million each, according to Maher’s recollection of the phone call.
Maher said the dollar figure impressed him.
"Five million bucks — that is like, ‘Wow!’" Steve Maher, 45, a Sixties Scoop survivor, was approached over Facebook about becoming a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government. (Steve Maher) But Maher said Tenenbaum then shared something that shattered him: His biological mother had tried to get him back from his adoptive parents but was refused.
Maher had never heard this before. He didn’t have a close relationship with his biological mother."It blew me right apart," he said.He started thinking about how his life could have been different, he said, how he could have been spared so much pain and so many problems if he’d been able to return to his mother.Two weeks later, he hit bottom."I started drinking," he said. "I tried to kill myself."Maher said he stopped communicating with Tenenbaum and changed his phone number so he couldn’t contact him again.He said he […]
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