Canadian DNA lab knew its paternity tests identified the wrong dads, but it kept selling them

CBC, April 9, 2024, by Jorge Barrera

Canadian DNA laboratory knowingly delivered prenatal paternity test results that routinely identified the wrong biological fathers — ruling out the real dads — and left a trail of shattered lives around the globe, a CBC News investigation has found.

Harvey Tenenbaum, the owner of Viaguard Accu-Metrics, told a CBC producer with a hidden camera during a conversation in his office that prenatal paternity test results that his laboratory produced for about a decade were "never that accurate."

The hidden camera conversation unfolded in the midst of a months-long CBC News investigation into a years-long pattern of erroneous results produced by Viaguard's non-invasive prenatal paternity testing. The test — if done correctly — matches DNA from a fetus that is in a mother's blood with the biological father's DNA.

Viaguard, based in Toronto, sold its prenatal tests through various related online storefronts with names like Prenatal Paternities Inc. and Paternity Depot.

"The test was not that accurate…. And we're leery of that test now," said Tenenbaum.

Tenenbaum is 91 and still runs the laboratory, showing up onsite most days, answering phones and meeting with customers.

A longtime businessman, it seems he began selling DNA services through Viaguard in the early 2000s, registering a prenatal paternity division in 2013, according to business records.

During the hidden camera encounter, he presented himself as a seasoned scientific expert who's seen it all, and, in a matter-of-fact tone, said he knows mistaken prenatal paternity results could inflict lasting damage on lives.

"There's a lot involved if it gets screwed up," Tenenbaum told the CBC News producer, who posed as a prospective customer seeking a paternity test.

"What if it's the wrong guy named and you're aborting your child of, you know, a wrong person…. We can imagine everything happens in life…. You see them all, and worse, and worse."

He also described instances where Viaguard's tests were proven wrong during a birth.

"That has happened. Test the white guy and the baby came out Black, and the white guy's saying: 'What's going on here?'" said Tenenbaum.

Harvey Tenenbaum

Harvey Tenenbaum, the owner of Viaguard Accu-Metrics, told a CBC producer with a hidden camera that prenatal paternity test results that his laboratory produced for about a decade were 'never that accurate.' (Ousama Farag/CBC News) © Provided by cbc.ca

When CBC News later directly approached Tenenbaum, he reversed himself, saying the tests were "accurate" and "perfect." He said he stopped selling them over rising overhead costs.

CBC News interviewed dozens of people whose lives were impacted by Viaguard's wrong prenatal paternity test results. Many former customers paid from $800 to slightly more than $1,000 for the laboratory's home test kits from 2014 to 2020.

The interviews included men and women in Montreal, North Bay, Ont., and Victoria. Other former customers interviewed were in Montana, Georgia, California, Guatemala, the U.K. and Australia.

In many cases, aftershocks still ripple, as a parent tries to make up for lost time or struggles to find the right way to reveal the truth about paternity.

"I really hate the name Viaguard," said Corale Mayer, 22, from North Bay, Ont.

Mayer received two wrong prenatal paternity test results — one identified the wrong biological father, the other ruled out the actual one — that altered the trajectory of her 2020 pregnancy.

It pushed her to try to involve a man who wanted nothing to do with her or her child, she said.

"It's extremely traumatic."

Mayer helped start a social media-based group with dozens of others who also said their lives were burned by Viaguard's wrong prenatal paternity results.

"When I found out there were other people … it was a relief," she said. "Finally, I could talk to somebody, and they would be like, 'Yup, I get that.' It was nice to feel I am not insane."

'Get me my money'

Viaguard claimed to use a common prenatal paternity test commercially available to the public since about 2014.

Experts say it is highly accurate, if conducted properly.

A non-invasive prenatal paternity test, it matches thousands of genomic data points — known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — in the fetal DNA, which flows in the mother's blood, with thousands of SNPs in the father's DNA.

However, Tenenbaum seemed to rely more on guesswork than science when handling at least some prenatal paternity tests, former employees alleged in interviews with CBC News.

Sika Richot worked for nearly three months answering phones for Viaguard in 2019.

Richot said she was coached to ask women seeking prenatal paternity test kits about times in their menstrual cycles and the dates they had intercourse with different men — information that is useless for a DNA test.

Sika Richot

Sika Richot worked for nearly three months answering phones for Viaguard in 2019. Richot said she was coached to ask women seeking prenatal paternity test kits about times in their menstrual cycles and the dates they had intercourse with different men. (Rachel Houlihan/CBC) © Provided by cbc.ca

Staff put the dates into an online ovulation calendar to narrow down the possible biological father, she said. Richot then entered the information into a form that went to Tenenbaum for signoff.

"[Tenenbaum] would always make a comment like: 'It's definitely this one [the biological father]. It's this one, it's got to be this one,'" said Richot.

Samantha Friday, who also answered phones, worked there for slightly more than a year. She said Tenenbaum micromanaged all laboratory operations.

"It sounds horrible to say, but it was kind of like … get me my money. That was it. Just kind of get me my money," said Friday.

"I think anyone who has had their DNA done for whatever purposes in the Toronto lab should probably consider redoing them."

Richot and Friday did not handle any samples or conduct any laboratory work while working at Viaguard.

Same man, same lab, conflicting results

In 2019 Mayer, at 19, found out she was pregnant. It was a physically difficult unplanned pregnancy during a confusing time in her life. She was prescribed medicine to deal with intense nausea that often overwhelmed and debilitated her.

The physical complications compounded another stress that overshadowed her pregnancy. She didn't know the identity of her baby's father. She said it made her feel shame, but Mayer believed a prenatal paternity test could give her some semblance of stability.

"I was like, I really need to do this now," she said. "The sooner I find out, the sooner my life can continue."

She found Viaguard online using the search terms "prenatal paternity testing near me."

The laboratory offered an option to pay the $800 in two installments. The test required her blood and a prospective father's DNA to make a match.

"It's a DNA company, it's science. It's black and white," said Mayer.

Mayer received a prenatal paternity testing kit from Viaguard in the mail. She was documenting her pregnancy for a school project and a friend filmed her as she pricked her finger with a lancet and squeezed drops of blood into a vial.

Then, she secured the inner-cheek buccal swab from the man she believed was the father, packed the sealed samples, put them in a box and sent them in the mail to Viaguard.

The test result said the man she tested wasn't the father. She sent a second set of samples to Viaguard from a different man. This time, the results said he was the match.

After the birth of her daughter, the presumed biological father demanded a postnatal paternity test. Mayer agreed and turned to Viaguard again. This time, the result said he wasn't the biological father.

"You know when you're just so hysterically upset, you laugh like you're just beyond emotion?" said Mayer. "There's no way that this is real."

Viaguard Accu-metrics offices

A months-long CBC News investigation found a years-long pattern of erroneous results produced by Viaguard Accu-Metric’s non-invasive prenatal paternity testing. (Ousama Farag/CBC) © Provided by cbc.ca

Two months after the birth, another laboratory determined the man Mayer first tested, the one Viaguard said was a zero per cent probability of a match, was her daughter's actual biological father.

Mayer provided CBC News with copies of the test results.

Viaguard began selling prenatal paternity tests in December 2010 for $800, according to internet archive records stored by the WayBack Machine.

CBC News determined Viaguard stopped offering the tests between December 2020 and sometime in 2021.

CBC News sent Tenenbaum and his lawyer a detailed list of questions in March and requested an interview, but received no response to that query.

In late March, a reporter approached Tenenbaum outside his laboratory to ask him when he first found problems with the tests and when he stopped offering them.

John Brennan

While John Brennan believed he was a father, he tattooed the child’s name, Travis, on his upper arm. It now reads: 'Travesty.' (Ousama Farag/CBC) © Provided by cbc.ca

"The tests were never flawed, the tests are perfect, the tests are accurate," he said as he walked to his car.

He suggested customers were responsible for mistakes in results because of the way they gathered their samples to send in the mail.

"You do thousands of tests and half the errors are the collection problems," said Tenenbum.

"You're not testing people, you're testing one stain against another stain."

Viaguard had conducted thousands of prenatal paternity tests over the years, he said.

A price hike in a testing substance, not results repeatedly naming false fathers, caused him to stop the tests, said Tenenbaum.

'Not something that could be done at home'

Dr. Mohammad Akbari, director of research at the molecular genetics laboratory at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto, said the type of test Viaguard claimed to use depends heavily on having enough of a mother's blood to be able to extract the fetus's DNA.

A few drops squeezed into a vial from a finger is not enough, said Akbari. A proper test would draw at least 10 millilitres of blood from a mother's vein, he said.

Viaguard did, in some instances, use blood drawn from a vein. Some customers who used Viaguard in 2015 told CBC News that someone who appeared to be a nurse visited their home to draw their blood. In other instances, including in a California lawsuit that resulted in a settlement, customers went to a local laboratory with Viaguard's test kit for the blood draw.

Those tests also wrongly identified a biological father.

It's almost impossible, if done correctly, for these highly accurate tests, which line up thousands of DNA data points for a match, to produce a false positive match, to identify the wrong man as the biological father of the fetus, Akbari said.

Yet, a false positive Viaguard result happened to John Brennan in 2015.

"As soon as I saw those test results, it was like a line in the sand. Immediately, right then and there, things just changed," he said.

Dr. Mohammad Akbari

Dr. Mohammad Akbari, director of research at the molecular genetics laboratory at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, says the type of test Viaguard claimed to use depends heavily on having enough of a mother’s blood to be able to extract a fetus’s DNA. (Ousama Farag/CBC) © Provided by cbc.ca

Brennan, from Atlanta, Ga., bought a house and a car to prepare for the sudden new reality as a father. His family swung in for support. His mother was feted with a "grandmother shower" by friends.

After the birth, his son became his world, but serious strain developed with the child's mother. Brennan hired a lawyer and spent about $20,000 in a legal battle over custody.

The child's mother, without telling him, obtained a separate postnatal paternity test that confirmed another man was the actual biological father. She broke the news to him over a text message in January 2017.

Brennan said he spiralled into a self-destructive depression. Gaps remain in his memory of that time.

"There's not a handbook on how to handle raising a kid for eight months and then finding out that it's not yours," said Brennan. "You're left in a mysterious, dark place mentally."

While Brennan believed he was a father, he tattooed the child's name, Travis, on his upper arm. It now reads: "Travesty."

Gaps in regulations

Associate Prof. Ma'n Zawati, research director for McGill University's Centre of Genomics and Policy in Montreal, says private commercial DNA laboratories don't need licences to operate and sell services.

Entities like Viaguard can operate by sliding through Canada's patchwork of regulations, siloed among professional bodies, consumer protection agencies, government entities and departments at the federal and provincial levels, he said.

Health Canada said in an emailed statement to CBC News it does not regulate commercial DNA labs like Viaguard.

Associate professor Ma’n Zawati

The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) stripped Viaguard of its accreditation in 2015. Federal Court records from the laboratory's failed legal bid to reverse the decision show the federal agency was aware of larger issues with Viaguard.

The SCC received nine complaints against Viaguard over four years, including two "representing multiple customers," according to a 2017 SCC report.

"A common theme of erroneous or inaccurate results" ran through the complaints which focused on "paternity or familial testing," said the report.

Viaguard still does business. On its website, it offers postnatal paternity and maternal DNA tests, along with DNA bird sexing, bait to sterilize mice and rats, and dog DNA breed testing.

It runs websites selling treatments for foot fungus and dementia while operating virtual storefronts under names like Paternity Legal, Paternity Africa and Global Paternity. Viaguard's continued existence frustrates some former customers like Mayer.

"The main thing I want for Viaguard is for it to close down," said Mayer. "I think that's a collective feeling. I don't think anyone would even imagine that it would still be open."

Paternity Fraud
UK National Survey

Paternity fraud survey statistics

Scotland's National Newspaper

96% of women are liars, honest

5,000 women polled

Half the women said that if they became pregnant by another man but wanted to stay with their partner, they would lie about the baby's real father.

Forty-two per cent would lie about contraception in order to get pregnant, no matter the wishes of their partner.

Infidelity Causes Paternity Fraud

Time magazine - Infidelity - It may be in our genes. Our Cheating Hearts

Infidelity--It may be in our genes. Our Cheating Hearts

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South Korean Husband Win Paternity Fraud Lawsuit - Associated Press

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Associated Press, USA
June 1, 2004

South Korean husband successfully sues wife for Paternity Fraud and gets marriage annulled.  Wins $42,380 in compensation

Paternity Fraud Philippines

DNA paternity test confirms fraud, annulment granted: judge | Visayan Daily Star Newspaper | Phillipines

DNA test confirms fraud, annulment granted: judge

The Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City, Philippines, BY CARLA GOMEZ, February 28, 2009

Bacolod Regional Trial Court Judge Ray Alan Drilon has annulled the marriage of a Negrense couple after a DNA test showed that the child borne by the wife was not the biological offspring of the husband who works abroad.

The family court judge ruled that the marriage of the couple, whose names are being withheld by the DAILY STAR on the request of the court, was null and void.

Due to fraud committed by the wife in getting her overseas worker husband to marry her, properties acquired during their marriage are awarded in favor of the husband, the judge said in his decision, a copy of which was furnished the DAILY STAR yesterday.

The judge also declared that since the overseas worker is not the biological, much less the legitimate father of the child of the woman, the Civil Registrar is ordered to change the surname of the child to the mother's maiden name and remove the name of the plaintiff as father of the child.

The complainant said he was working as an electronics engineer in the United Arab Emirates and on his return to the Philippines in 2001, his girlfriend of 10 years with whom he had sex, showed him a pregnancy test result showing that she was pregnant.

On receiving the news he was overjoyed and offered to marry her. Shortly after he went to Saudi Arabia to work, and his wife gave birth to a baby girl in the same year.

The birth of the child only five months after their marriage puzzled him but his wife told him that the baby was born prematurely, so he believed her, the husband said. Read More ..

Paternity Fraud - Spain Supreme Court - Civil Damages

Daily Mail UK

Adulterous woman ordered to pay husband £177,000 in 'moral damages'

The Daily Mail, UK
18th February 2009

An adulterous Spanish woman who conceived three children with her lover has been ordered to pay £177,000 in 'moral damages' to her husband.

The cuckolded man had believed that the three children were his until a DNA test eventually proved they were fathered by another man.

The husband, who along with the other man cannot be named for legal reasons to protect the children's identities, suspected his second wife may have been unfaithful in 2001.

BBC logo

Infidelity 'is natural'

BBC, U.K., September 25, 1998

Females 'stray to gather the best possible genes for their offspring'

Infidelity may be natural according to studies that show nine out of 10 mammals and birds that mate for life are unfaithful.

Experts found animals that fool around are only following the urges of biology.

New studies using genetic testing techniques show that even the most apparently devoted of partners often go in search of the sexual company of strangers.

Females stray to gather the best possible genes for their offspring, while males are driven to father as many and as often as possible.

"True monogamy actually is rare," said Stephen T Emlen, an expert on evolutionary behaviour at Cornell University.

A Quote Worth Remembering

About The truth

"All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed, Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as self-evident."

Arthur Schopenhauer

Scholarly Submission
University Paper

The Issue of the Childs Right to Self Determination

The issue of child self-determinism has always been a central one in the struggle for children's rights. For virtually every other civil rights movement, it has been the discriminated themselves who have provided the drive towards liberation, and the ability to self-determine was assumed to be present. The Children's rights movement is fundamentally different, however, in that children, almost by definition, require somebody else to see to their needs until they are ready to assume control of their own lives. Read More ..

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Ontario woman convicted of son's starvation death granted full parole

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Wednesday, May. 22, 2002

KINGSTON, Ont. (CP) -- An Ontario woman who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in one of Canada's stiffest penalties for child abuse will be released on full parole after serving less than half her term.

Lorelei Turner, 38, and her husband Steven were convicted of manslaughter in July 1995 for beating and starving their three-year-old son John to death in a case that horrified Canadians who followed the trial.

But on Wednesday, a panel of the National Parole Board in this eastern Ontario city ruled Turner will be released but placed on probation until July 2011.

Until then, she must remain within 25 kilometres of her residence, is not allowed unsupervised contact with anyone under 16, and must continue to receive counselling.

"The board would have looked at the risk and obviously found a low risk to reoffend," Carol Sparling of the National Parole Board said Wednesday.

Associated Press

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January 5, 1999

According to psychologist and author William Pollack, 'sports are the one arena in which many of society's traditional strictures about masculinity are often loosened, allowing boys to experience parts of themselves they rarely experience elsewhere.'

When Harvard Medical School psychologist William Pollack administered a test to a group of 150 teenaged boys a few years ago, the results were shocking.

Laws on Corporal Punishment of Children from around the World

Other countries don't allow assaults on children

Like Britain, countries such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Austria had a defence to assaults on children similar to our s. 43. These defences were removed between 1957 and 1977. The criminal law of these countries therefore gives children the same protection from assault as it gives adults. Beginning with Sweden in 1979, these countries also amended their civil child welfare laws to expressly prohibit corporal punishment so that the public fully understood it was illegal.

World's most famous pediatrician is against circumcision

Dr. Benjamin Spock author of "Baby and Child Care", which has sold over 40 million copies is against circumcision

Dr. Spock now believes that circumcision of males is traumatic and painful

Redbook, April 1989

When a baby boy is circumcised, the sleeve of skin that normally covers the head of the penis (the foreskin) is pulled forward and cut off.

Circumcision is usually performed without anesthesia a few days after birth - on the now debunked myth that babies will not remember the pain later, although they certainly cry out with pain at the time.

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Lesbian Pedophilia and the rape of girls

Don't attend performances.

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by Dr. Hazel McBride Ph.D. June 9-10, 1995

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Transcript of Dr. Hazel McBride's presentation on the relationship between family conflict and suicide rates among men.

Pediatricians turn away from circumcision

The United States is the only country that routinely circumcises baby boys for non-religious reasons

March 1, 1999

ATLANTA (CNN) -- American pediatricians are turning away from the practice of routine circumcision, concluding that doctors have no good medical reason to perform the procedure.

The United States is the only country in the world that routinely removes the foreskins of infant boys. Critics of circumcision got additional ammunition Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a leading medical organization.

The academy concluded the benefits "are not compelling enough" for circumcision to be routinely administered.

baby screaming in pain

A newborn winces in pain after a circumcision

Monday's statement, published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics, was the academy's first in 10 years on the practice. But in recent years, medical societies in Canada, Britain and Australia have come out in opposition to routine circumcision.

Critics have long contended that removing the foreskin from the penis is traumatic, medically unnecessary and may reduce sexual pleasure later in life. As one critic, Dr. George Denniston, put it: "Who are we to question mother nature?"

Canadian researchers, whose study was published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, studied the heart rates and crying patterns of babies during different stages of circumcision.

In fact, in the study they found the babies suffered so much trauma that they stopped the study part way through.

The results were so compelling that they took the unusual step of stopping the study before it was scheduled to end rather than subjecting any Read More ..bies to circumcision.

One baby stopped breathing for 25 seconds from the trauma of having part of his foreskin severed.  Read More ..