A drug company says a Toronto condo project would threaten 'national security.' Here's why

A pharmaceutical company in north Toronto is objecting to a proposed new condo development next door on the grounds that hundreds of residents looking down on its facility represent a threat to "national security."

Sanofi Pasteur objects to proposed high-rises' view of its expanded facility

Coun. James Pasternak is seen at the front entrance to Sanofi Pasteur's 21-hectare campus in Toronto's north end. The vaccine maker says it's expanding and needs assurances its operations can be secure. (Mike Smee/CBC)

A pharmaceutical company in north Toronto is objecting to a proposed condo development next door on the grounds that the hundreds of residents looking down on its facility will represent a threat to "national security."

Sanofi Pasteur is expanding its manufacturing facility, according to a letter from the company's lawyers. It'll be producing vaccines at the site, and will also be able to help fight any future global pandemics.

But the France-based company worries that two new towers proposed by the developer Tenblock — just a few hundred metres away, at 1875 Steeles Ave. W. — could jeopardize its security. Each tower would be more than 30 storeys high.

"The location of hundreds of new residential units with a 24/7 overlook of its sensitive facilities undermines Sanofi's ability to ensure its ongoing and expanding vaccine research and manufacturing facilities are secure," reads a letter from Sanofi's lawyers to city planners.

And that, the letter continues, "represents national security concerns given the strategic importance of the site for vaccine manufacturing and future pandemic readiness."

Sanofi's main building on its Steeles Avenue campus. The company says a proposed high-rise development next door poses a risk to its, and thus Canada's, security. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Sanofi Pasteur has also expressed concern about another two-tower condo development, at 1881 Steeles Ave. W, from developer First Capital. 

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada says the company will receive about $470 million from the federal and Ontario governments to build a $925-million vaccine production facility on its Toronto site. Sanofi itself will provide the balance of the funds.

But, the plant won't be capable of joining the fight against any future pandemic until it's completed in 2027, ISED said.

An artist's concept of what the new Tenblock development will look like. A 10-storey podium flanked by 31 and 37-storey towers. (Tenblock)

Coun. James Pasternak, who represents Ward 6, York Centre, where both Sanofi and the proposed condo lands are located, says Sanofi Pasteur's concerns are not just corporate NIMBYism.

"I think they have a valid point," he told CBC Toronto. "This is a strategic site not only for Canada but worldwide and everything we can do to protect it, I think we have to take those measures."

Walid Hejazi, who specializes in national security at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, agrees that foreign countries intent on disrupting Canada's ability to fight a future pandemic, or who want to produce their own vaccine, could target a facility like the Sanofi Pasteur campus. 

"Vaccines are incredibly important now," Hejazi told CBC Toronto.

"Being able to maintain the integrity of the physical perimeter is very important, not just in terms of someone crossing into that environment, but people being able to spy from sort of high locations that are located close by," he added.

Map showing the proposed Tenblock development, shaded in purple, next to the Sanofi Pasteur facility. The pharmaceutical company says the towers will be too high and too close. (Tenblock)

Pasternak said the city is working with Tenblock, in the hope it will agree to lower the towers to about 10 storeys. But he said it will likely be more than a year before the city offers any final approvals and construction gets underway. 

Neither Sanofi Pasteur nor Tenblock would speak with CBC Toronto but both companies issued statements.

"There has been a residential apartment building at our site for 50 years and our redevelopment proposal simply continues on this residential use legacy," Tenblock vice president Stephen Job wrote, adding that the proposal meets with other "regulatory and policy requirements."

The site Tenblock owns, next to Sanofi's 21-hectare campus, is on the other side of a grassy ravine. The residential building on that site is an H-shaped low-rise of 120 units.

Tenblock plans to replace it with a 10-storey building flanked by two towers of 31 and 37 storeys, plus parkland. But that's too many new residents, too high up, according to Sanofi.

Prof. Walid Hejazi says foreign governments could try to disrupt Canada's economy by targeting the pharmaceutical industry. (Zoom)

"It is our position that the location, proximity and building specifications of the proposed condo developments presents production security challenges for our ongoing — and expanding — vaccine research and manufacturing," the company's statement reads.

"Domestic vaccine production capacity is vital to Canada's ability to respond quickly to potential future public health emergencies."

Hejazi says it's in the country's, and the municipality's, best interests to protect Sanofi from foreign espionage as it expands its operations to fight future pandemics.

"The threat is really around trying to get access to the intellectual property and therefore extract that for their own use in their home country," he said. 

This 50-year-old low-rise complex at 1875 Steeles Ave. W. near Dufferin Street would be demolished to make way for the new condo project. (Mike Smee/CBC)