Barry Sherman to receive posthumous Order of Canada

Pharmaceutical billionaire Barry Sherman learned he would receive the Order of Canada weeks before he and his wife, Honey, were found dead by strangulation in the basement of their suburban Toronto home.

Governor General's office says family or friend can accept the award on behalf of the Toronto billionaire

Apotex founder Barry Sherman and his wife, Honey Sherman, were found dead in their home in suburban Toronto earlier this month. (United Jewish Appeal/Canadian Press)

The Governor General's office has released the list of Canadians to be awarded the country's top honour, and among the names is a pharmaceutical billionaire who recently died under tragic circumstances.

Barry Sherman was informed of his appointment to the Order of Canada in November, just one month before he and his wife, Honey Sherman, were found dead by strangulation in the basement of their North York, Ont., home.

Sherman's son Jonathon alluded to the appointment during a tearful eulogy during the couple's funeral on Dec. 21. "You were always so humble but I remember how proud you were to receive that news," he added.

The awards are usually handed out at four ceremonies over the year but dates have not been set.

"In Mr. Sherman's case, a family member or friend would be invited to accept [the award] on his behalf," a spokesperson from the Governor General's office said. She would not comment, however, on whether or not a family member or friend of Sherman's has committed to attend in his place. 

The list of recipients released Friday said Sherman is being given the award "for his entrepreneurship in the pharmaceutical industry and for his unwavering support and commitment to education and charitable causes."

Sherman founded the generic drug company Apotex in 1974. University of Toronto pharmaceutical economics expert Paul Grootendorst said the company is iconic in the Canadian pharmaceutical industry. 

Sherman "was definitely a builder of the generic drug industry in Canada," he said. "Through litigation, [Apotex] brought a lot of generic drugs to market earlier than would otherwise be the case."

The founder of Apotex, who was found dead in his Toronto home on Friday, had a major impact on Canadian life both through the pharmaceutical giant he created and for his philanthropic activities. 2:00

The company manufactures more than 300 generic pharmaceutical products and has been involved in a number of court cases, as drug companies have pushed back on its efforts to sell no-name options.

"Apotex was not afraid to roll the dice," Grootendorst said, referring to the heavy expenses that the company could have incurred from losing legal battles against brand-name drug manufacturers. 

For consumers, having generic drugs available means cheaper medication.

Canada's 15th richest person 

It also spells big profit margins for Apotex. Sherman's net worth was recently estimated by Canadian Business magazine at $4.77 billion, making him the 15th richest person in the country.

His success was not without contention. Sherman faced legal action from his orphaned cousins, the Winter siblings, for a cut of the Apotex fortune in 2007. A judge dismissed the case in September as an abuse of process, but court records show the Winters filed an appeal a month later.

Nonetheless, Bernie Farber, former president of the Jewish Canadian Congress, said the Shermans's success was followed by extensive philanthropy.

"The community knew them as titans of charitable work," Farber told CBC Toronto. "No one had a better idea of what "tzedakah," which means charity in Hebrew means."

Farber recollected how Barry Sherman became a local legend in Cuba when he sent "pounds and pounds of medication" to a modest pharmacy affiliated with the country's small Jewish community.
Jonathon Sherman, shown with his sisters, gave a eulogy at a memorial service for their parents in Mississauga, Ont., on Dec. 21. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"It became the best-stocked pharmacy in the country," he recalled.

"I think Barry Sherman should have gotten the Order of Canada years ago," Farber said. "It's sad and tragic that he got it and then was killed so tragically."

Police have not ruled the couple's deaths a homicide, but Farber said "anyone who knew Barry and Honey accept the fact there is more to this than meets the eye.

"It's hard for us to believe that this is anything other than a killing."

Detectives search through sewers

Police have recently scoured the sewers near the Sherman's mansion in search of clues in the case, but they remain reticent with details.

The family has hired a team of investigators to conduct an independent investigation after slamming reports that suggest police are looking into a possible murder-suicide. 

Thousands mourned the mysterious deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman at a public memorial in Mississauga today, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Toronto Mayor John Tory 3:51