by Brett Hueston of The Aylmer Express
A letter from Herbert Hildebrandt through his lawyers says he did push Jack Dykxhoorn, 84, but in self-defence, in a December 2020 altercation where Mr. Dykxhoorn received cracked ribs.
Mr. Hildebrandt, 37, a Malahide resident, was later charged with assault for the incident and the case has been winding its way through court, with his next appearance scheduled for July 20. The criminal allegations have not been proven in court.
Despite a court order forbidding contact, a letter on Lakin Afolabi Law Professional Corporation letterhead was hand-delivered in January from Mr. Hildebrandt’s lawyers to Mr. Dykxhoorn and two witnesses. It threatens the three men with legal action for “the defamatory statements that you made” in the media.
The Aylmer Express recently obtained a copy of the letter. It outlines potential civil action, separate from the criminal proceedings taking place.
Lawyers Lakin Afolabi and Michael Bronsveld, on behalf of their client, Mr. Hildebrandt, demanded a draft apology by January 30, 2021, as well as payment of Mr. Hildebrandt’s legal costs and having corrections made in the media that ran interviews with Mr. Dykxhoorn and the witnesses. If that wasn’t done, “then our client will have no alternative but to commence legal action against you for damages, costs and interest.”
The letter was addressed to Jack Dykxhoorn, David Peters and Walter Morgan. None of them responded to the letter. Despite the supposedly “defamatory” statements being listed as appearing in the Aylmer Express, London Free Press, CTV News and Toronto Star, none of those media outlets were named or received any legal notice.
When asked to respond to questions about the letter, lawyer Michael Bronsveld replied in an email, “I have spoken with both Mr. Hildebrandt and Mr. Afolabi. Due to our professional obligations, Mr. Afolabi and myself are unable to comment on this matter at this time.” Mr. Bronsveld had earlier, on Friday, July 9, acknowledged the existence of the letter.
The Express followed up with a question on the legality of the letter itself. According to Mr. Hildebrandt’s undertaking following the assault charge, one of the conditions of his release states, “You must not communicate, directly or indirectly, with Jack Dykxhoorn, Walt Morgan, Jack Brower, David Peters. (name of victim, witness or other person)”.
The Express asked, “As far as sending the letter itself, are you or Mr. Afolabi concerned it might be construed as intimidation or witness tampering?” Mr. Bronsveld did not reply.
Email and text messages to Mr. Hildebrandt were not returned.
In the Dec. 16, 2020, edition of the Aylmer Express, the lead story covered the original incident.
Jack Dykxhoorn, 84, of Malahide, is recovering from cracked ribs that resulted from an alleged assault at a private home across Imperial Road from the Aylmer Church of God on Thursday morning, Dec. 10.
Herbert Hildebrandt, 37, of Malahide, has been charged with assault by Elgin Ontario Provincial Police. Elgin OPP Const. Troy Carlson said Mr. Hildebrandt was arrested and charged on Saturday, Dec. 12. He is to appear in St. Thomas provincial court on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Mr. Dykxhoorn, in an interview, said for the last eight months or so, he and some friends have gathered each morning to have coffee at about 8:30 a.m. at a house owned by the estate of their late friend, Ed Thompson.
In addition to Mr. Dykxhoorn, a retired farmer and Malahide councillor, the regular crew includes Walt Morgan, Dave Peters, Ian Cameron, Jack Brower and Joe Webber.
They were interviewed by the Express at the house on Monday morning, Dec. 14.
On Thursday, Dec. 10, at 9 a.m. or shortly after, some of the men decided to put a ‘Be Kind, Wear a Mask’ sign on what they contended was a roadside ditch on public property adjacent to the church’s laneway. The men wanted to show their disapproval of the church’s anti-masking stand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Mr. Hildebrandt’s father, Henry, is the church pastor and has spoken at several anti-restriction rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Henry and Herbert are facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act.)
Afterward, they returned to the house, and a couple of men departed. Then, Mr. Dykxhoorn said, a church member used his vehicle to block him into the home’s driveway as he tried to leave.
“He blocked me in so I couldn’t get out,” he said. Two or three other church members were nearby in their own vehicles.
Mr. Dykxhoorn got out of his truck and the church member approached, and started talking to him.
Mr. Dykxhoorn said he stood with his hand in his pockets, and then the church member allegedly pushed him.
“I remember falling onto the (side of the) truck, and then to the ground,” Mr. Dykxhoorn said. “I couldn’t get up.”
His friends Mr. Peters, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Brower rushed to his aid.
Mr. Brower said the man tried to apologize, allegedly claiming he hadn’t mean to push Mr. Dykxhoorn so hard.
Mr. Peters said they were all surprised at what had happened.
Mr. Dykxhoorn said he got back into his truck to go home, but first stopped to try to smooth over what had happened with the church member.
The church member wouldn’t speak to him, he said, except to ask where he wanted his sign put, and Mr. Dykxhoorn indicated the back of his truck.
After Mr. Dykxhoorn got home, his daughter Darlene Newell came by and, seeing something was wrong with him, telephoned for help.
Mr. Dykxhoorn went to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital where the OPP met him and stayed with him as he was x-rayed.
The doctors diagnosed him as having cracked ribs, and warned him recovering from that might take some time, he said.
Mr. Dykxhoorn said he had met the church member once before and knew who he was. He identified him as Herbert Hildebrandt.
Mr. Hildebrandt, at the time, referred the Express to his lawyer, Lakin Afolabi, who said, “I can assure you there are two sides” to the incident. “We will be mounting a vigorous defence.”
Since then, the Express has followed the case through court, with most dates being held over to future dates. A pre-trial was scheduled for June 28 with a follow-up for July 20.
However, the January letter from the same law firm claims Mr. Hildebrandt, 37, who stands about six feet tall with a husky build, pushed five-foot-eight Mr. Dykxhoorn, 84, “strictly in self-defence.”
The letter claims that the church also serves as a school for about 45 children. It read, “Mr. Hildebrandt was concerned about at least three males in such close proximity to a large number of young children attending the school. He approached you and asked what you were doing at the school. In your reply, Jack Dykxhoorn and Walter Morgan both told him to ‘f*** off’ and mind his own business.”
Asked recently about that claim, Mr. Dykxhoorn said it was sometime after 9 a.m. when they planted the sign, “There wasn’t a soul out there.” He also said they stayed by Imperial Road, on public property. And, he added, he never swore at Mr. Hildebrandt.
Someone familiar with the church, its school, and the building’s layout, confirmed the school was at the back of the church building, as far east as possible from the Imperial Road driveway entrance. The school portion is about 90 metres to the east of where the sign was planted, through a tree-lined winding driveway and across a parking lot.
The letter alleges, “As Mr. Hildebrandt turned around to speak to Mr. Dykxhoorn, he found both Mr. Dykxhoorn and Walter Morgan inches from his face, cursing and screaming at him. Mr. Dykxhoorn proceeded to shove Mr. Hildebrandt multiple times and made threatening gestures. Mr. Hildebrandt told Mr. Dykxhoorn to stop, and when he did not, Mr. Hildebrandt pushed him back. Mr. Hildebrandt initiated this push strictly in self-defence.”
Mr. Dykxhoorn, when asked about the claim that he was the aggressor, recalled what he had said in December. “I never had my hands out of my pockets.”
He recently had suffered a broken shoulder, arm and hip surgery. “I wasn’t in the best shape to fight.”
“The reason I fell down (after being pushed), was because I had my hands in my pockets. Several people were witnesses to that.”
The letter continues, “Based on what was published, both online and through print, it appears that you made no mention of your provocation of the incident, your trespass on private property, loitering on school property where young children were present, Mr. Dykxhoorn’s assault of Mr. Hildebrandt or other such facts that would have provided an accurate context to what occurred that day.”
“Due to interviews you provided, the published news articles contain many false, defamatory and malicious allegations about your interaction with Mr. Hildebrandt on December 10, 2020. These indefensible statements made by yourself were made with malice and intended to destroy the reputation of Mr. Hildebrandt.”
The “Notice of libel and intended action” that accompanies the letter notes the three men (Mr. Dykxhoorn, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Peters) as defendants and Herbert Hildebrandt as the plaintiff. It names media outlets that carried interviews about the incident were the Aylmer Express, London Free Press, Toronto Star and CTV news. However, none of the media outlets was named in the letter or as a defendant. Representatives from Aylmer Express and London Free Press confirmed they hadn’t received any legal notices regarding the interviews or their publication.
The notice quotes lines from the news stories, mostly of the three men describing what happened. Examples include: “Then, Mr. Dykxhoorn said, a church member used his vehicle to block him into the home’s driveway as he tried to leave.”; and “‘I don’t know why he was so angry,’ Dykxhoorn says of Herbert Hildebrandt, the son of Pastor Henry Hildebrandt.” Then, it claims “The aforesaid words, phrases and statements, in their natural and ordinary meanings, inferences and innuendos, were and are false and defamatory of the Plaintiff and were published with express malice or with reckless disregard for the truth and were calculated to disparage and injure his reputation in the community at large.”
It claims “the said defamatory statements meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff: is violent or has violent tendencies; lacks self-control; is a bully; is dishonest; takes advantage of the vulnerable; has and will attack persons of a senior age; does not care about the community; does not care about the health of the individuals of the community; committed multiple criminal offences; and should be shunned by the community at large; all of which are false and defamatory.”
The notice demands retractions by the defendants be published in the sources the original stories appeared, as well as an apology by the defendants. It further insists “the Defendants are hereby prohibited from publishing and/or posting any further defamatory statements, whether directly or indirectly, of and concerning the Plaintiff.”
“The Plaintiff hereby reserves the right of action against the Defendants and an action for libel may be commenced as a result of the aforesaid defamatory publications in which damages for libel will be claimed, along with aggravated and punitive damages, costs on a substantial indemnity basis, and interest pursuant to the Courts of Justice Act.”
This instance isn’t the only recent threat of legal action by Mr. Hildebrandt.
In early May, Malahide Mayor Dave Mennill was interviewed by CTV News London about the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations in the N5H postal code, which covers Aylmer and much of Malahide.
Mayor Mennill said in the interview, “Unfortunately, the Church of God people, they’re always protesting about the anti-masking, the anti-vaccining, you’re probably not going to convince them and unfortunately, if they get the COVID, then they’re going to have to deal with it.”
In response, Mr. Hildebrandt’s Facebook page said, “Not only is that statement hateful and promotes others to hate a specific group that you were elected to represent, you are potentially exposing yourself as the mayor, the township council, and by extension the Township of Malahide to a massive libel, defamation, and slander lawsuit by singling out a particular religious group and disparaging them publicly.”
“I urge you to publicly retract that statement immediately and look forward to hearing/seeing that within 48 hours.”
No public retraction or apology followed.
Originally published in the July 14, 2021 print edition.