Looking North: Understanding Your Canadian Prospects in 10 Questions

By Agnes Pawelkiewicz, University of Toronto

With the growth in global interconnectedness and the emergence of new economic power elites, many organizations are scaling their development and fundraising efforts to better engage their international constituents. This creates many exciting opportunities for the prospect researcher and also a few challenges.

If your work happens to take you to Canada, you may find that the tools and techniques that have served you so well in the past are no longer effective. Switching your frame of reference will reenergize your work and help you better navigate Canada’s information landscape.

To get an accurate picture of what types of information you can expect to find, and where you are likely to find what you need, it helps to understand Canada’s information management framework.

1. What is the current state of Canada’s information landscape?

Canada is a federal state and a parliamentary democracy, with 10 provinces and three territories. There are two orders of government in Canada, the federal government and the provincial governments, each with their own legislative authority. Municipal governments are given their authority by the provincial government.

The management of information collected by Canadian governmental agencies is mandated by the applicable program legislation.

For example, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), a federal government department which collects income taxes for most of Canada, has the authority to collect information from taxpayers to enforce its program legislation, the Income Tax Act (ITA) and Excise Tax Act. (The Agence du Revenu du Québec (ARQ) collects Quebec income tax from Quebec residents.) The CRA also regulates the charitable sector in Canada and serves as the main repository of information on all registered charities in Canada under the ITA.

In contrast, the Canadian securities market does not fall under federal legislation, and each of the 10 provinces and three territories are responsible for their own securities laws. However, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), an umbrella organization comprised of the 13 provincial and territorial securities regulators, coordinates and harmonizes the work of its members in their respective jurisdictions. As a result, access to public securities documents and insider trading reports filed as part of securities disclosure are centralized via online databases SEDAR (the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval) and SEDI (the System for Electronic Disclosure by Insiders), respectively. SEDAR and SEDI are key resources for public financial information on the compensation and shareholdings of prospects affiliated with publicly-traded companies.

2. What is Canada’s legal framework for protecting privacy?

Canada has strict privacy laws that focus on safeguarding personal information.

At the federal level, there two privacy laws: the Privacy Act, which regulates how personal information is handled by the federal government; and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which sets rules for private sector data protection. Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec passed their own private sector protection laws that are similar to PIPEDA.

In addition, many provinces have their own regional privacy laws that complement or augment the federal legislation. For example, Ontario’s access and privacy laws include the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), which covers governmental organizations, and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), which applies to municipal institutions.  

The definition of personal information varies by jurisdiction, but in general, it refers to any information about an identifiable individual, including:

      • Name
      • Address
      • Telephone number
      • Race, national or ethnic origin
      • Religion
      • Marital status
      • Medical, education or employment history
      • Financial information

While individual-level personal information is usually fully protected, government agencies and market research companies may at times release aggregate data.

3. How likely am I to find date of birth information for my prospect?

As a general rule, date of birth is considered personal information under Canadian privacy laws and is not subject to public disclosure. But there is one exception.

Under Canada’s corporate disclosure regulations, public company directors are required to list their age in a management information circular filing submitted annually to the regional securities commission. These filings can be searched free of charge on the SEDAR website.

It is also occasionally possible to find this information by searching news articles, perhaps through Factiva, which offers comprehensive coverage of Canadian sources, as well as genealogy resources and various directories.

4. What are the best resources to look up Canadian addresses and phone numbers?

In general, a person’s home address and phone number are considered personal information and are protected under Canada’s privacy laws. The regulatory framework allows for an exception, though.

If an individual is a director of a federal corporation, their name and residential address/address of service is considered public information. The Privacy Act allows for this information to be made public because corporate laws require its disclosure. The address can be accessed via Corporation Canada’s Search for a Federal Corporation tool.

Another option is to search the Canada411.ca directory, which includes residential phone number and address information sourced from publicly available local telephone records for published telephone listings.

5. How do I find real estate and property assessment information for my prospect?

Full property valuation data on a property can only be viewed by the property owner. Basic assessment information can frequently be located online. However, accessing this information can be tricky.

In Canada, local municipalities charge property taxes, with centralized or decentralized assessments supervised by the provincial government. All information about properties is collected by the local assessor’s office. Data collected in connection with the assessment process is governed by local statutes and is subject to local, rather than federal, access and privacy laws. As a result, there is no consistency in how the information is presented.

For example, Ontario has a centralized property assessment system administered by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), and assessment information can be accessed through MPAC’s online application called AboutMyPropertyTM. Property owners have full access to the information MPAC has on file on the property they own. In addition, for each taxation year, property owners who register with AboutMyProperty can access basic property information, including current value assessment (CVA), on up to 100 properties. This access is provided free of charge.

In Quebec, each municipality holds jurisdiction in all matters of assessment. The Montreal property assessment roll, for example, is available online, but the website is in French only. The website gives options to search by different criteria, including property street address (provided in a French format), lot number and geographic coordinates, but you cannot search by the owner’s name. If you locate the property record, however, the owner’s name will be listed.

6. What other options are available for locating Canadian property values?

There are a couple of workaround strategies worth trying:

First, you can try estimating the value of your prospect’s house by looking at Canadian property value averages. Two excellent tools to try include:

    • Manifold Data Mining datafile, available through iWave or CharityCAN, which provides access to Canadian property value estimates based on six-digit area codes. Each postal code has an average of 10-15 households.
    • WealthScapes database by Environics Canada, which includes property estimates built at the dissemination area level. A dissemination area is a small geographic unit with population of 400 to 700 persons. It is the smallest unit used in the Canadian census.

Another option is to estimate a property value by searching for comparable property listings. Two reliable sources include:

    • REALTOR.ca, a database from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), where you can search for residential and commercial listings from realtors across Canada.
    • Zoocasa, where you can search all current real estate listings for homes and other properties across the country.

7. What is the difference between a charity and a not-for-profit/non-profit organization?

In Canada, the terms “not-for-profit/non-profit” and “charity” are frequently used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

In everyday terms, when we speak of a non-profit or a not-for-profit, what we have in mind is an organization that operates for a purpose other than profit, referring to registered charities, foundations or non-profit corporations. We also tend to think that these organizations do not generate profit, though this is in fact not the case.

Non-profit terminology becomes much more precise and meaningful when viewed in the context of Canadian law.

If a non-profit or voluntary organization incorporates under a not-for-profit statute, it becomes a not-for-profit corporation (NFP). Depending on the scope of its operation, its stated purpose and its activities, an organization may elect to incorporate federally (under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (NFP Act)) or provincially/territorially (under applicable local legislation).   Incorporation provides an NFP with a number of benefits under the law, including an existence that is separate from that of its officers, directors or members, and limited liability. While NFPs are established for purposes other than gaining financial benefit for their members, they are in fact free to make a profit.

Non-profit organizations, whether incorporated or not, can benefit from further considerations under the law by applying for a registration with the CRA, specifically its Charities Directorate branch. The Directorate is responsible for the registration of a charity, handling compliance activities under the ITA and for making general information about a charity available to the public. Depending on its internal structure, its mode of operation and its source of funding, a charity registered with the CRA can be classified as a charitable organization, a public foundation or a private foundation. Charitable organizations differ from private and public foundations in that they carry their own charitable programs. Foundations on the other hand, make distributions to a variety of external causes. It’s the latter that is frequently of interest to a prospect researcher.

8. What is the difference between a family and a corporate foundation?

In addition to their legal identification, non-profits can also be classified as family, corporate, independent or community foundation.

A corporate foundation is a vehicle set up by a large company or organization to carry out its charitable giving programs. Legally, it can be set up as a charitable organization, public foundation or a private foundation.

A family foundation is a foundation whose funds are derived from members of a single family. Family members often serve as officers or board members of the foundation and have significant decision-making. Most family foundations are set up as private foundations under the ITA and as such, they are subject to disclosure regulations issued by the CRA.

It’s important to note that even if an organization has the word “foundation” in its name, it may not be an actual foundation, as defined by the CRA. For example, the Air Canada Foundation is in fact set up as a non-for-profit corporation. A search using CRA’s List of Charities database can help verify if your organization is a registered charity.

9. Where can I find more information on my prospect’s family foundation?

The most reliable source of information on a family foundation is the T3010 Registered Charity Information Return, which is an annual report that all registered charities must file with the CRA. Most of the information in a T3010 return is available to the public and can be accessed online via CRA’s List of Charities function, including:

    • Charity name and contact information
    • Registration date and number
    • Status (registered or revoked)
    • Designation (charitable organization, private foundation or public foundation)
    • Overview of program areas and funding priorities
    • Names of directors/trustees
    • List of donations to qualified donees
    • Detailed financial information, including assets and total gifts made to qualified donees

Information sourced from CRA’s T3010 returns can also be accessed via iWave, CharityCAN and Grant Connect, all of which offer enhanced search features.

10. How do I find philanthropic giving information for a Canadian prospect?

Canadian non-profits are not required to disclose donor information, but many do, and much of this type of data can be found online. In addition, the following resources are useful in locating Canadian charitable giving histories:

    • NOZA, available via CharityCAN, lists charitable donations made to Canadian organizations. The information is sourced from a variety of online documents, including gift announcements, annual reports, newsletters, campaign honor rolls and event sponsor lists.
    • iWave’s VeriGift is a database of charitable gift donations, recipients and donors in Canada and the U.S.

In many cases, a donor’s giving history can be compiled from press releases and gift announcements. Three popular newspaper databases with strong Canadian content include Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database (CBCA), Factiva and Canadian Newsstream.



This article relates to the Prospect Research domain in the Apra Body of Knowledge.

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