The ads promote Lightnaturalskin.com, the website for a homeopathic clinic that claims to offer a “safe and natural” treatment for a range of skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation, discolouration and uneven tone.
Split images of a black woman and a woman of South Asian descent are employed in the ads to demonstrate the lightening effects of the treatment, with the implication that lighter skin is preferable.
The ads were put up on subway cars on Line 1 Yonge-University.
Many riders took to social media to denounce the ads as racist and "disgusting," and TTC spokesman Brad Ross confirmed the transit authority has received 11 official complaints.
TTC policy requires a review of ads after five complaints are submitted, but the public outcry led the head of the clinic, Jean-Jacques Dugoua, to pull them voluntarily before five complaints were heard.
“It has come to our attention that the TTC ads for lightnaturalskin.com have caused offence and concern,” said a statement on the clinic’s website last week.
“The ads were not intended, in any way, to offend. We apologize for any concern, offence or distress the ads may have caused and have requested that the TTC remove them immediately.”
Ross told CBC News last week that while the ads may offend some people, the TTC is by law not allowed to reject or remove ads simply because people object to them.
“We're not here to be the arbiter or the judge of what may be good advertising or offensive or not offensive. If it's offensive to some, then the next question is: Does it break any laws?” he said.
The TTC can only move to take down advertisements if they violate the Ontario Human Rights Code or qualify as hate speech.
Ross told the Toronto Star on Thursday that he expects the ads to be fully removed by the weekend.