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Embattled City Councillor Rob Ford was pressed into making a grudging apology yesterday for saying in a council speech last month that "Oriental people" are "slowly taking over" because of their work ethic.

Mr. Ford, who made headlines last week when he was charged with assaulting his wife and uttering a death threat, was ordered by Speaker Sandra Bussin to withdraw and apologize for his remarks about Asians in a debate last month.

After presenting what he said was a petition from 151 Asian Canadians asking him not to apologize, he at first insisted his remarks were complimentary and agreed to apologize only for his use of the word "Oriental."

"At no time did I ever offend the Asian community by giving them a compliment," said Mr. Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North). "What I might have done is referred to them as 'Orientals.' And that I did not know was a racist comment. I should have said 'Asian.' "

His original remarks, in a debate about whether to allow shopping on holidays, included his assertion, "Those Oriental people work like dogs."

Yesterday, he stood by that sentiment: "When I said working like a dog, I was brought up, my father told me every day to 'get out of bed and work like a dog, son.' A dog means you're a hard worker."

He remained defiant even as he was heckled by a handful of protesters in the gallery: "... I'm not changing my views on the Asian people. They do work very hard. And they are very, very aggressive."

Mr. Ford also held up a folded flyer from the grocery chain No Frills that he said helped prove his case: "One of my Asian constituents brought this to my attention over the weekend. At No Frills, they're advertising Oriental flavour, 100 per cent pure corn starch."

He then added: "If I have offended any one in the Asian community, I will proudly retract my statements."

Ms. Bussin, despite protests from right-leaning councillors, said this was not an apology, and demanded that Mr. Ford formally apologize. Her ruling was upheld in a 33-8 vote, after which Mr. Ford leaned in to his microphone and said, very quietly: "Sorry."

Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), whose ward includes the city's main downtown Chinatown area, offered lukewarm support for Mr. Ford's apology: "It's a start. ... I hope he's learned something."

Mr. Vaughan had presented a petition with 260 names, organized by Kristyn Wong-Tam, a former president of the Chinese Canada National Council's Toronto chamber, that said Mr. Ford's original remarks were "reviving the ideology of the Yellow Peril, which was used to initiate racist legislation" such as a head tax and a ban on Chinese immigrants.

Councillor Chin Lee (Ward 41, Scarborough-Rouge River), who was born in Malaysia and has many Chinese constituents, said the issue was not a big one for his ward. "I believe it is sufficient," he said. "We have to progress and move on. It is not something I want to spend a lot of time on."