Toronto city councillor Rob Ford has formally apologized for remarks he made earlier this month that many said were disparaging toward Asians — but not before enflaming the situation with more poorly timed comments.

"The Oriental people, they're slowly taking over … they're hard, hard workers," Ford, who represents Ward 2 in Etobicoke, said during a council debate on March 5.

"Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out. … They sleep beside their machines. That's why they're successful in life."

He argued his comments were meant as a compliment and made several attempts to put the controversy behind him.

But Asian groups, angered at the stereotyping and racist overtones, asked for a formal apology.

On Monday, Coun. Adam Vaughn of Ward 20 in downtown Toronto presented a petition signed by 260 residents in his ward demanding an apology. Speaker Sandra Bussin ruled that Ford must retract his comments and apologize.

But before he apologized, Ford cited numerous references to the world "Oriental" in popular culture — including an ad for corn starch in a supermarket flyer that promotes "Oriental-flavoured 100 per cent corn starch."

He suggested there is nothing wrong with the term.
"At no time did I ever offend the Asian community by giving them a compliment. What I might have done is refer to them as 'Orientals' and that, I did not know, was a racist comment. I should have said 'Asian.'

Ford, who last week was charged with assault and uttering a death threat in relation to a domestic dispute, ultimately did say "sorry," in a low quiet voice. His apology was accepted by council.

Ford has said he will plead not guilty to the criminal charges when he appears in court on April 28.

Ford has made headlines as a fiscally prudent councillor who has a reputation for making off-the-cuff and often controversial comments.

He's also drawn heat over the years for calling Coun. Gloria Lindsay Luby a "waste of skin" and Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti a "Gino-Boy."

He did eventually apologize for causing a drunken disturbance during a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game in 2006, when he shouted out comments like "you right-wing Communist bastards."