A great resource for investigating private companies.

When it comes to investigating companies, it makes a huge difference whether the corporation is publicly-traded or privately-held.

Securities regulators ensure that public companies report certain types of information regularly. The best place online to find such information for Canadian companies is www.sedar.com

But it's a completely different story for private outfits. There are few mandatory reporting requirements. This means investigative journalists have to be more resourceful.

A good place to check is with credit rating agencies. Equifax will gladly prepare a report on a company, public or private, and offer it for sale. These reports can provide a good idea of how promptly a company is paying its bills, and how much litigation it might have on its hands.

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Corporate registries are another useful place to look. Companies registered provincially or federally have to file basic information about directors and, in some cases, ownership. The federal database is online at Industry Canada's site, while provincial registries have to be checked individually.

It's sometimes worthwhile to track the activities of Canadians abroad by checking on their corporate activities in different countries. This can be done online in many cases, though language barriers might make the task daunting for some countries.

Luckily, there are some sites that have aggregated this information in a user-friendly format. Open Corporates, for example, has scraped data from dozens of countries and re-purposed it to make searching simpler. So has the Investigative Dashboard's worldwide company data site.

A great article by Sheila Coronel, of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, provides links to these and other useful places for corporate research.