The Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry will hold its first public forum Wednesday in Vancouver.

The commission was set up to investigate how Robert Pickton, who was convicted of six second-degree murder charges in 2007, was not arrested before 2002. The public inquiry was ordered by B.C.'s attorney general in September 2010.

The public forum, which is being held in advance of the start of formal hearings, is an opportunity for commissioner Wally Oppal to hear from those whose loved ones have died or disappeared.

"I don't think there's anyone more important than the families and the victims," said Oppal. "We want to learn from them — what happened."

Oppal will consider the police investigations conducted between Jan. 23, 1997, and Feb. 5, 2002, into women reported missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The inquiry will also review the January 1998 decision by the Ministry of Attorney General's criminal justice branch to stay charges against Pickton for the assault of a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker.

Last year, Vancouver police apologized for their failure to arrest Pickton in 1997 and 1998 and possibly preventing several deaths before his eventual arrest.

They blamed inadequate staffing and training and poor communication and co-ordination with the RCMP for the failure of the early stages of the investigation.

'It's a national problem'

Although some are calling it the "Pickton Inquiry," Oppal said commission's work isn't restricted to missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"This may have its origins in the Pickton case, [but] missing women is a problem throughout the province — and, in fact, it's a national problem," Oppal said.

Pickton was convicted of murdering six women between the late 1990s and 2002. He had been charged with another 20 killings, but the Crown chose only to prosecute the cases that would most likely to lead to conviction.

The commission's formal hearings will likely begin in the spring. 

Oppal, 70, was B.C.'s attorney general from 2005 until 2009. He was defeated in a provincial general election in May 2009. He also has been a judge on the B.C. Court of Appeal and the B.C. Supreme Court.

The final report is due by the end of 2011.