The Canadian government has appointed a senior public servant to negotiate costsharing arising from lawsuits filed against Ottawa and four Christian churches by former residential school students.

Jack Stagg was named negotiator by the Prime Minister’s Office and is accountable directly to the offices of Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray. Mr. Stagg met last month with representatives of the United, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches, assuring them that he did not represent the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs or the Department of Justice. The churches have been informed, for the first time, that the government is prepared to negotiate responsibility for damage claims being brought by former students. The churches have been facing potential bankruptcy over the mounting costs of litigation. The Anglican Church alone Is looking at legal fees estimated at $100,000 a month.

Mr. Stagg was one of the senior negotiators in the Mi’kmaq fishing dispute in Burnt Church, New Brunswick last year. He has held the posts of associate deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans and assistant deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. Talks have been scheduled to take place throughout the summer.