By Jenneth Hogan
OMNIBUS [L. omnis / all, every, each, the whole]
Providing many things at one time; containing many things. An omnibus bill is a legislative act incorporating many disparate subjects and purposes in one statute. The overall purpose is to prevent the executive department from vetoing some provisions to preserve others. An omnibus clause in an auto insurance policy is a clause making the insured responsible for the acts of all persons driving the car with his permission. An omnibus clause in a will is a clause disposing of all property not specifically mentioned in other provisions.
An omnibus bill is a proposed law that covers a number of diverse or unrelated topics, within a single document, as an all-or-nothing tactic. They propose a mix of changes, seeking to amend, repeal or enact several Acts, within one fell swoop and must be approved or defeated as a whole legislative package. Because of their extensive size and ambit, omnibus bills are not always well received. Some consider them to be anti-democratic as they limit opportunities for public debate and scrutiny and are typically used as an attempt to slip controversial amendments passed Parliament.
In Canada, one of the more prominent omnibus bills is the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 (S.C. 1968-69, c. 38), better known as Bill C-150. It was introduced by, then, Minister of Justice, Pierre Trudeau and was passed on May 14, 1969. The act legalized homosexuality, abortion and contraception. It imposed restrictions on gun ownership and expanded the definition of a “firearm”. It put further regulations on drinking-and-driving, harassing phone calls and misleading advertising, redefined what constitutes cruelty to animals and permitted lotteries. The bill was described by John Turner as “the most important and all-embracing reform of the criminal and penal law ever attempted at one time in this country.” 1
Another great example of this is C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, given Royal Assent on June 29, 2012. With more than 400 pages, containing an excess of 750 clauses and amending nearly 70 laws, Bill C-38 far exceeded the scope of Bill C-150. By comparison, C-150 was 126 pages long with only 120 clauses.
Emanuel, Lazar. Latin for Lawyers: The Language of the Law (New York: Aspen Publishers, 1999).