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A Toronto drug company says a proposed condo project threatens ‘national security.’ Here’s why | CBC News

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A pharmaceutical company in north Toronto is objecting to a proposed new 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 Steeles Avenue West manufacturing facility because, according to a letter from the company’s lawyers, it has won a contract to make future pandemic relief vaccines for the federal and provincial governments. But the company worries that two new towers proposed by developer Tenblock at 1875 Steeles Ave.W. could jeopardize its security.

“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.”

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Sanofi’s main building on its Steeles Avenue campus. The company says it’s expanding its facilities on the site to develop new ways to fight future pandemics. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The company has signed a contract with the federal and provincial governments worth $850 million, according to Coun. James Pasternak, who represents Ward 6, York Centre, where the drug company and the proposed condo site are located. Sanofi Pasteur wrote to Pasternak asking him for support in its effort to get the city planners to rethink the condo project.

The new facility would manufacture vaccines to help fight any future pandemic. Just a few hundred metres away, however,  developer Tenblock has applied to erect two condo towers, each of which would be more than 30 storeys high. And Pasternak 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.”

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)

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. 

“When you think about vaccines and the development of any sort of product that has high intellectual property rights, 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.

“That’s very, very important.”

Pasternak said the city is working with Tenblock, in the hope they’ll agree to bring the height of the towers down 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. 

Walid Hejazi, a professor with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says foreign governments could try to disrupt Canada’s economy by targeting the country’s pharmaceutical industry. (Zoom)

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

“Tenblock and Sanofi Pasteur have been cooperatively engaged in discussions since 2020, and we appreciate Sanofi Pasteur’s commitment to remain engaged,” Tenblock vice president Stephen Job wrote.

“There has been a residential apartment building at our site for 50 years and our redevelopment proposal simply continues on this residential use legacy,” he continued. 

“Our expert consultants have recently completed compatibility studies (noise and air quality) and they confirm that our redevelopment proposal complies with all regulatory and policy requirements.”

The site Tenblock owns next to Sanofi’s 21-hectare campus is several hundred metres away across a grassy ravine. The residential building on that site is an H-shaped low-rise building of 120 units..

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)

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

“Due to the sensitive and critical nature of our work, 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.”

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)

U of T’s 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 .

“If I’m able to observe physically what’s going on around the facility — who’s coming in, who’s leaving —  that kind of information can be used to develop a strategy to learn something about what’s going on in the organization,” he told CBC Toronto. 

“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,” Hejazi continued. 

And when that happens, that comes at the expense of the Canadian company that’s developing the technology and therefore, it undermines the strength of our economy.”

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