Toronto councillor Rob Ford came under fire Wednesday for a backhanded compliment he paid to one of the city's largest minority groups.

The outspoken councillor said he was trying to compliment the hard-work ethic of Asian shop owners. His colleagues say his comments were offensive and inappropriate.

"You want to see workaholics, those Oriental people work like dogs, they work their hearts out, they are workers non-stop. They sleep beside the machine," he said during a council debate on whether or not to keep retail stores open on statutory holidays.

"I'm telling you that's what makes them such hard workers. Those Oriental people are slowly taking over," he said.

Coun. Shelley Carroll quickly retorted by quoting comedian Margaret Cho who said, "carpets are Oriental, people are Asian."

It's not the first time the councillor has been accused of uttering racially-fuelled remarks. In 2002, his colleague Giorgio Mammoliti filed a complaint under the harassment and race relations policy at city hall, saying Ford called him a "gino boy." Ford denied making that comment.

On Wednesday after the debate, Ford apologized for his choice of words and said he was trying to pay a compliment.

"If I offended anyone I will apologize, it wasn't my intention," he said.

Many of his colleagues said Ford should be more sensitive, especially in multicultural Toronto.

"I don't think as elected representatives we should make those type of statements," said Coun. Raymond Cho.

"It's very distasteful, especially here in Toronto, in Canada, a nation of immigrants," said Coun. Maria Augimeri. "I'm very uncomfortable with what happened here."

Mayor David Miller reacted to Ford's comments Thursday morning, calling on the councillor to make an official apology in chambers.

"I haven't had a chance to consider what sanctions are appropriate but his comments were outrageous," he told CTV Toronto. "I think he has to be held to account and that starts with profusely apologizing.

"It's just unacceptable in this city and it's unimaginable that you'd have an elected official making these comments," Miller said.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Naomi Parness