Containing only the words "GO HOME IRISH!" and the URL "PleaseLeaveCanada.com," the ad drew immediate criticism among those who saw it live and those who saw photos of it uploaded to Facebook Thursday.
"Can you imagine how heartbreaking it is for Irish people to see this when walking around Toronto?" tweeted a 21-year-old Irish man living in Canada, noting that his mother had emailed to inform him of the ad after seeing it online.
Others were confused by the presence of such a sign in Canada, where more than 4.5 million residents listed themselves as being of Irish ancestry during the most-recent National Household Survey.
Of course, it didn't take long for people to figure out the sign's actual purpose by visiting the URL it displayed.
PleaseLeaveCanada.com redirects to the homepage of a Dublin-based marketing agency called The Social House. An overlay currently in place on the site reveals that the billboards are part of a recruitment campaign aimed at attracting talented Irish workers who've been living abroad.
"We want you to come home," reads a corresponding blog post on the company's website, addressing the thousands of Irish citizens who've moved to Canada for work in recent years. "Not as much as your mum, but still."
In an interview with The Daily Edge, an agency employee elaborated on what his team was trying to achieve.
"We want to bring good people back from Canada, Australia and all over – so it was done to promote a bit of a reaction," he said. "People who get it think it's hilarious. We've got loads of people messaging us saying that it's smart and well done."
The campaign's humour and good intentions were lost on those who didn't care to investigate the link, however.
As one Torontonian Twitter user pointed out, "people often don't read the back story to ads."
Others called out the agency for making light of or trying to capitalize on the "anti-Irish sentiments that were rampant in Canada and the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries."
"We are not anti-emigration, but we would love to lure some of these internationally seasoned brains back home by pretending to be anti-Irish-Canadians," reads a press release issued by the agency late last week in response to complaints.
"We have been abroad ourselves. We know the pull of home, but [also] the fear that you may have to compromise on your career to come back. It can seem from the outside that Dublin does not offer as good an opportunity as somewhere like New York, London, Sydney or Toronto. But Dublin is finding its feet again as a creative city, and we are working hard to mess with the system and make advertising more fun."