People dressed in so-called "ethnic costumes" congregated outside a Conservative rally in Toronto Thursday evening to protest after a member of a local Tory candidate's campaign sent out an email looking for people in "national folklore costumes" to appear at a photo-op.

An email signed by a campaign worker for the Etobicoke Centre Conservative candidate said he was looking for people to create a "photo-op about all the multicultural groups that support Ted Opitz our local Conservative candidate and the Prime Minister."


People carry placards about "ethnic costumes" at a counter-rally outside a Conservative event in Toronto. ((Kady O'Malley/CBC))

Opitz said Wednesday that the email was written without his knowledge  and that he doesn't support it.

Earlier this week, Toronto-based group Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change responded to repeated talk of the "ethnic vote" in the campaign with a music video parody of Michael Jackon's Beat It.

A Facebook page formed after the email was leaked calls the email "patronizing and offensive" and invited people to participate in a counter-rally outside the Etobicoke event.

"Whether you're Chinese, Arab, Portuguese, Italian, South Asian, Irish, Vulcan, Klingon, Zombie, or Ewok. Let's show the Conservatives that 'ethnic voters' are not props for photo-ops," the Facebook page says.

CBC's Kady O'Malley estimated that at least 20 people turned out for the Thursday evening counter-rally.

Salmaan Khan, a Ryerson student who helped organize the event, said he felt it was important to respond to the email.

"Personally, as a person of colour, I found the comments that were made in the email from the Conservative camp to be offensive," he said Thursday. "We are not ethnics, we are Canadians."

He said cultural garb is not necessarily a costume.

"But that's how they worded it, and I guess that's what we'll show up in."

Khan said earlier Thursday that he was not sure how many people will attend the event, or what they would wear — but he said some people were planning to come dressed as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

"Do you have any cultural groups that would like to participate by having someone at the event in an ethnic costume? We are seeking one or two people from your community," the email signed by Zeljko 'Zed' Zidaric said.

"The opportunity is to have up to 20 people in national folklore costumes which represent their ethnic backgrounds," the email said.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff criticized the call for people in costume. 

"When I have meetings, I don't arrange people in ethnic costumes behind it," Ignatieff said Thursday. "These are not costumes, for heaven's sake."

But Harper said Thursday that the email doesn't represent his party's approach.

"The story is absolutely bizarre," Harper said. "We have great representation, we're getting better support than ever across all cultural communities in this country, and that is not how we do business."

No Conservative supporters turned up at the rally in costume.