TORONTO – Toronto billionaire and philanthropist Barry Sherman and his wife were found dead in their mansion Friday, and police said they were investigating the deaths as suspicious.
Const. David Hopkinson would not identify the two bodies found at the home of Apotex founder Bernard “Barry” Sherman and his wife Honey. But Ontario’s health minister said the couple had been discovered dead.
Hopkinson noted that it was early in the police investigation.
“The circumstances of their death appear suspicious and we are treating it that way,” Hopkinson said at a news conference held outside the couple’s home. “Our investigators are inside investigating and taking apart the scene.”
Hopkinson said police were called to the Shermans’ home in an upscale neighbourhood of north Toronto just before noon on Friday in response to a “medical complaint.”
He declined to say whether the bodies showed signs of trauma and did not provide details on the time or cause of death.
Hopkinson said the deaths are not currently being treated as homicides, adding that more investigation will be necessary.
“There may be suspicious circumstances. It’s an investigative tool,” he said. “Until we know exactly how they died, we treat it as suspicious. Once a determination has been made by the pathologist and the coroner, then we move forward from there.”
Police said later Friday evening that they are not currently seeking any suspects but are keeping an open mind on all possibilities.
“We did not observe any signs of forced entry into the building and so at this point indications are that we have no outstanding suspect to be going after,” Det. Brandon Price told reporters.
“We will be getting a lot more answers tomorrow (Saturday) following the post-mortem examinations.”
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins sent a tweet expressing shock at the death of his “dear friends,” who he described as “wonderful human beings.”
“I am beyond words right now,” Hoskins wrote in his tweet. “Incredible philanthropists, great leaders in health care. A very, very sad day.”
In a statement Friday night, Hoskins added that the Shermans will be deeply missed.
“They were generous philanthropists, kind and compassionate individuals, devoted to their family, their friends, their community, this province and this country,” he said. “Their leadership and investments in health care leave a legacy we are all better for.”
Barry Sherman founded Toronto-based Apotex Inc. in 1974 with two employees and gradually turned it into the largest Canadian-owned pharmaceutical company.
Along the way he amassed a vast fortune, recently estimated by Canadian Business magazine at $4.77 billion, making him the 15th richest person in the country.
Sherman faced legal action from family members alleging they had been cut out of the company over the years.
As a producer of more than 300 generic pharmaceutical products, Apotex has itself seen a fair number of litigation issues, as companies have pushed back on its efforts to sell cheaper no-name options.
One of the most high-profile of those clashes occurred when pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb sued Apotex in 2006 to try and stop it from selling the first generic form of the heart-disease treatment Plavix.
Today, the company has more than 10,000 people in research, development, manufacturing and distribution facilities world-wide, with more than 6,000 employees at its Canadian operations. Those include manufacturing and research facilities concentrated in the Toronto area as well as in Winnipeg.
Filling more than 89 million prescriptions in a year and exporting to 115 countries, the privately held company says its worldwide sales exceed $2 billion a year.
Sherman’s wife, Honey, was a member of the board of the Baycrest Foundation and the York University Foundation. She also served on the boards of Mount Sinai’s Women’s Auxiliary, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the International American Joint Distribution Committee.
The Shermans were among Canada’s most generous philanthropists and also organized funding of charitable causes through the Apotex Foundation. The couple made numerous multimillion-dollar donations to hospitals, schools and charities and had buildings named in their honour.
A University of Toronto website lists the Apotex Foundation and the Shermans as donors in the range of $10 million to $25 million during 1995 and 2003. They also donated roughly $50 million to the United Jewish Appeal.
In a statement on the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto’s website, the Shermans expressed their particular “obligation” to support the Jewish community.
“We are fortunate in being able to contribute,” the couple is quoted as saying. “You can’t take it with you, so the best alternative is to put it to good use while you are here.”
The chair of the Sinai Health System’s board said the Shermans’ deaths was a big loss.
“Their visible leadership on our hospital and foundation board of directors was infused with warmth, passion and a fierce intelligence,” Brent Belzberg said in a statement. “Their loss will be felt by our organization, our community, and our country.”
Apotex called news of the deaths “tragic.”
“All of us at Apotex are deeply shocked and saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time,” the company said in a statement.
The address where the bodies were found was recently listed for sale for $6.9 million. Neighbours confirmed that the property was the couple’s home.
— with files from Michael Oliveira and David Hodges in Toronto and Ian Bickis in Calgary.