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Doug Ford wants an apology from John Tory.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

With just three weeks to go before the votes are counted for Toronto's next mayor, the three leading candidates traded charges of racism and demands for apologies and continued to battle over details of their transit plans.

Olivia Chow and Doug Ford hammered at the details of front-runner John Tory's SmartTrack plan, holding competing show-and-tell news conferences Monday in Scarborough to point out what they say are flaws in his proposal to use existing GO Transit lines to run a new rapid-rail service.

Ms. Chow pointed out the need to double single-track stretches of line to run the service, while Mr. Ford took reporters on a walk through the city's east end to point out the distance between a subway stop and train station.

Mr. Tory responded that the cost of a second track was included in the cost of his $8-billion plan and pointed out many people make the half-block walk between the Main Street station and Danforth GO station.

But the three candidates saved their sharpest comments Monday for what they characterized as the inadequate response of their rivals to racist and anti-Semitic remarks, with Mr. Ford demanding an apology from Mr. Tory for suggesting he is anti-Semitic, pointing out that his wife is Jewish.

The issue came to the forefront in a weekend debate when Mr. Ford was confronted about an anti-Semitic slur his brother Mayor Rob Ford was alleged to have used last winter.

Though Mr. Ford called his brother's comment "unacceptable," he began his answer by citing his "Jewish doctor, my Jewish dentist, my Jewish lawyer, my Jewish … accountant" as proof that he and his family have "the utmost respect for the Jewish community."

Mr. Tory's camp issued a statement shortly after denouncing Mr. Ford's "shameful comments and behaviour."

Mr. Ford hit back Monday, calling Mr. Tory's statement "the most disgusting low blow." Asked whether he was stereotyping the Jewish community, Mr. Ford responded: "Not at all. The Ford family has an extensive relationship, a great relationship, with the Jewish community. As a matter of fact, my wife is Jewish. Her mother is Jewish. And they have to come after me? You've got to be joking."

A Ford spokesman later added that the candidate "was quite sad" to feel compelled to bring up Karla Ford's lineage. "Her grandparents on her mother's side were in fact Orthodox Jews," Jeff Silverstein said. He did not elaborate on the role that either Judaism or the Jewish community plays in Ms. Ford's life.

During a debate Monday night, Mr. Tory said it is Mr. Ford who should be apologizing, both for the remarks of his brother and for comments he has made in the past.

Mr. Ford shot back that Mr. Tory had called him "trash," asking the full lecture hall at Centennial College, "Is that not a racist comment?"

He later raised questions with reporters about the Tory family's membership at the Rosedale Golf Club, which in the past did not have Jewish members. Mr. Tory countered that he and his father had fought to get the first Jewish member at the club.

Ms. Chow for her part told reporters before the debate her campaign has been the target of sexist and racist messages and remarks. And she challenged the response of Mr. Tory and Mr. Ford who did not speak up at a past debate when a member of the audience directed racial slurs at her.

"We all need to say no to it," she said of racism, "and I wish that night that my colleagues had stood up and said that to that gentleman."

Mr. Tory responded that he thought Ms. Chow "spoke very eloquently," when she confronted the gentleman, but Ms. Chow later told reporters anyone who wants to lead the city needs to speak up against such comments.